Memories of France and Italy

I’m sorry, but “What was your favorite city?” is not a fair question. Yes, I have answered it, but if you have traveled much at all (and I hope you have), you know that it’s unlikely that one particular place rose above the rest of the amazing places.

Though I do understand the impetus of the question. You want me to relate the highlights of a 24 day get-away in a succint and helpful manner. You want to know, quickly, which place you may want to go on your trip someday (or maybe you’re just being polite). The problem is that visiting new places is very experiential. It happens, it’s awesome, and then you move on to the next amazing place. Unless one takes a video of the whole experience (which I’ve seen others do) — and even that isn’t the same — being there is really the only way to get across the enormity of the cathedral, the brilliant colors of the 15th century fresco, or the thrill of being 12,600 feet up in the mountains and seeing three countries at once. Words don’t do these experiences justice…so I should just stop writing….

Since I appreciate you taking the time to read this blog entry, however, here are my top seven favorite memories from our recent trip to France and Italy:

1. The greater Paris area speaks to me. The Metro is so useful and relatively cheap. The train (which is different from the Metro) helped us get to Giverny quickly and enjoy Monet’s gardens. We found ourselves at the top of places, searching for more stunning viewpoints (ie., Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and our 4th floor Airbnb, up one of many circular stairways). We enjoyed a riverboat cruise on the Seine River on the first night, too (Judy reaches to touch a bridge, below…click on the photo to enlarge it).

2. Beaune was memorable for the wine tastings, the food, and Daniele (our Airbnb host) and her generosity. I was surprised that the wine tastings were in the cellars of the winery; we snaked through over a mile of tunnels lined with wine barrels and stopped occasionally to drink a small quantity of various, delicious wines.

3. Mont Blanc took my breath away. That is, the views were gorgeous and we were so high up (12,600 feet) that I had some trouble breathing. We were in the French Alps at Chamonix, France, and found it charming and welcoming. We took the gondola up to Aiguille du Midi, an observation platform to view Mont Blanc; Rick Steves was there last year and made a short, informational video. Judy was in her glory with mountain views in every direction. We stayed at a beautiful, rustic hotel on the Arve River called the Hotel d’Arve And ‘stepped into the void’ for a dramatic photo.

4. The Amalfi Coast is gorgeous. We stepped into the Mediterranean Sea on some black, slippery stones in Positano. Then, later we stayed in a wonderful family hotel on a hill near Sorrento that overlooked the Tyrrhenian Sea and Naples and Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.

5. We were only in Venice for a couple days and in that short time we glimpsed the integral and complex place that diverse boats play there. We were on water taxis, a gondola, a water subway, a car ferry, and a regular ferry on our way out to the island of Lido to get to our hotel. And we found ourselves up high again to get a new perspective.

6. Staying at the Grand Hotel on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy with the Alps on the horizon was incredibly picturesque and the hotel’s lasagna was the lightest, most delicious of the trip. It was a resort area with a very relaxing vibe and I would go back in a nano-second.

7. Judy and I had a remarkable dinner experience in the Tuscany region outside of Florence at the Villa Machiavelli — excellent food (I had a T-bone steak), serenaded by a talented singer and guitar player, some impromptu dancing with Alissa (our travel director) and Preston (a new friend from Massachusetts with an artistic, fun sense), intersting conversation…and several local varieties of wine!

I would return to all of those spots. And many more. (I would have to win the Lotto to do it again soon…if you’re thinking about doing a similar trip and want to talk about costs for such a trip, email me at akabodian@gmail.com and we’ll talk over coffee.) Traveling is almost always costly, but it is always worth it, in my experience. I find that if I spend too long in my safe, predictable space, I forget about the rest of the world. I don’t think about people speeding along at 180 miles per hour on bullet trains or people who feel they need to pickpocket or palm bills upon payment in order to survive. I forget that there are other, interesting things to eat for breakfast, that even ice cream can blow your mind (as in…gelato), and that lemons (super-huge lemon skins) can be turned into tasty Limoncello. Travel spices up life by reminding us of the diversity of people and cultures. I can’t wait until we plan another get-away.

A few rules or guidelines we tried to live by while we were there:
1. Use a rest room whenever you have the chance because you may not see one again for awhile (or you may have to pay for it…some public rest rooms in Italy cost .50 euro – 1 euro to use).
2. Use the language of the country if possible. People seemed to appreciate it if we said Hello, Thank you, You’re welcome, and other phrases in the language of the country…although I think I said Parle vouz anglais? (Do you speak, English?) more than any other phrase.
3. If you hear English being spoken by others, assume they are tourists and engage them in conversation. That connection with strangers in a foreign place is like finding a surprise, temporary relative. We met people from many states (FL, CA, PA, NY, TX…) that way, as well as interesting blokes from England and Australia.
4. Wear your money belt (with credit cards, passport, and some euros) almost all the time you are in a public place. With exceptions like the hotel restaurant and the pool, we felt safer with our valuables under one layer of clothes. We still had a few bills and some change accessible in pockets, but not the more valuable items.
5. If your feet are happy, you’ll be happy. We both had amazing shoes with us — I wore my Keen hiking boots and Judy wore a Keen sandal with a closed toe most of the time. These shoes had plenty of support, some breathing space, decent comfort, and weren’t excessively heavy.
6. Write down what you did every day because it’s tough to remember later on. Judy was great at this.
7. Take some photos, but don’t go crazy with it…enjoy the moment. That may be hard to believe, if you follow the link to the photo album I put together. However, I could have filmed the whole trip…it was that amazing…so finding your own balance is necessary. You’ll see people who go overboard — don’t be that person.
8. Look up…and down. The ceilings are often the most impressive part of the view. Frescos cover many ceilings and multi-colored marble and granite show up when you least expect it. Ditto on the floors.
9. Let somebody who knows the area do the driving. We used the Metro in Paris, our Eurail passes several times crossing France and then, in Italy, let the bus driver get us places (we took the Best of Italy bus tour with Trafalgar, which we highly recommend; we also recommend Affordable Tours to book the tour). It lowered our stress-levels significantly to trust others to get us places and not try to figure it out — especially since we hadn’t been to most of the places we visited. It was more expensive, but I was so glad we had made that choice. And I still remembered how to drive when we returned…so yeah.
10. Rick Steves is usually right, so don’t doubt him.

Here are some of our photos and videos for your enjoyment. Let me know if you want a personal explanation of any or all of them:

France and some of Italy

More of Italy

The Cascade du Dard (waterfall) near Chamonix, France video

Alissa tells Odysseus/Sirens story on the road to Positano, Italy, video

Processing the process

Note: Somewhere along the way, this entry turned into a commencement address or ‘what I would have said at a retirement soirée’ if there was one. I wrote it over the course of the last few months, which explains why it rambles a bit.

I was not one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. For the first couple years of college, my major was officially “Undecided” and at one point it was “Undecided – Economics.” My cousin, Laurie, was the only practicing teacher in my extended family; she and I never really discussed her job, but knowing she made that choice opened the profession as an option (even if only subconsciously).

And now after 25 years in the profession, I am retiring. A year ago, I pondered retirement in a blog post. I mentioned that, though I had taught all those years, it felt like many jobs. In a blog post entitled “When I Retire,” I noted all my different teaching positions:

* Years 1-3, teaching high school English
* Year 4, teaching middle school English and Social Studies
* 1 1/2 year break to go back to M.S.U. and get my Masters Degree in Special Education
* Years 5-7, teaching middle school Special Education in a self-contained classroom and some co-teaching
* Year 8, teaching high school Special Education
* Years 9-10, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (more of a Resource Room)
* Years 11-14, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (back to a self-contained classroom)
* Years 15-17, teaching 8th grade English
* Years 18-23, teaching 7th grade English
* Year 24 (and now, Year 25), teaching 7th and 8th grade English

Moving between four school districts and back-and-forth between English and Special Education has helped the “quarter century” fly by. I realized in my mid-20’s that I could combine a love of reading and writing with a passion for working with young adults — I sincerely appreciate all four school districts (Rochester, Charlotte, Okemos, and East Lansing), all my colleagues over the years, and all of my students and their parents for the opportunity to be a teacher and to learn from each of them. It takes a village to raise a teacher and I was blest by teacher friends and by family who supported me in numerous ways. Two that come to mind right away are Joanne Hubbard and Troy Hicks. They both renewed my love of the profession when it was waning and I sincerely thank them both.

I’m leaving with some pretty good company: Calvin Johnson of the Lions, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, Peyton Manning of the Broncos, Barack Obama, Garrison Keillor…John Brandenburg (of East Lansing High School), Sue Hulteen (of MacDonald Middle School). We didn’t all get together and decide, but I feel like we’ll always have a special bond. We knew when we could afford to turn down the millions of dollars a year and find some other — more relaxing — thing to help us pass the time (though I suppose Obama didn’t have a choice).

Some things have helped me with this transition year. Having third hour planning has helped in an odd way. Third hour is the hour that teachers read the announcements and have the students say the Pledge of Allegiance. While those are good and necessary, I have not missed them a bit. I will occasionally read the announcements myself so I know what’s going on around the school; frankly, however, I think not knowing every single thing has helped me disconnect a bit. I get plenty of e-mails with information. I know enough about what’s happening. And the pledge? It’s patriotic to recite it daily…for a few days. By the sixth month of school, it’s difficult to keep it fresh. I love this country. But I don’t miss saying the pledge everyday.

Through a scheduling fluke, I ended up eating lunch with mostly 8th grade teachers. They are wonderful folks, but they aren’t my usual eating companions; I miss eating lunch with my 7th grade teacher buddies, but it did require me to take another step back and away.

We had a snow day in February. One of the many things I did was write a countdown of school days in my planner. It was 85 days as February started and that seemed like it would take forever. As I write these words, though, we are in the teens (14 1/2) already. I had a very astute 7th grader comment that “the years fly by, but the the days sometimes last forever.” So true.

In some ways, the changes in being a teacher have sped my departure from the profession. The over-reliance on evidence-based decision-making has made us into test administrators. We spend much more time talking about testing among ourselves (reading about them, planning schedules around them, commiserating about them…) and with our students (preparing them for taking a test online, explaining new schedules, debriefing how the test went…) and it stinks. It takes away time from what we would rather be doing. It also sets an impersonal mood and takes the focus off relationships, creativity, and curiosity. I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie, Where to Invade Next, and part of it dealt with Finland’s amazing public school system. Finnish teachers were imploring the U.S. to stop using standardized testing and Finnish students were talking about how their no homework, shorter school day helped them learn. Finland, and other countries like France, put the curricular emphasis on nurturing healthy, happy young people and on developing critical thinkers who know how to play and make time for it — things we are straying away from, unfortunately. (I highly recommend the movie. For more information about it, read this review.)

The nice thing about being in a transition year is that I say what’s on my mind (mostly). I take a deep breath, then tell my students something to the effect of “I’m not sure why you didn’t read it off the handout or off the board or hear me say it several times, but the answer to your question is…” or “Ask someone else.” I offer several lectures a week (at no additional cost or obligation) about common sense. And about thinking before you speak or act. I’ve been the point person for several staff members, too, who have needed an honest person with nothing to lose to say something to the administration. Though I’m not always proud of it, one thing that has helped me this year is lowering my expectations…for myself and for the students; together with that extra deep breath, there’s something about cutting myself some slack and not worrying when students don’t quite reach the bar that has kept me moving along with a smile.

They do do cool stuff now and then. Zoie walks up with a smile on her face and says she signed up for my summer camp on creative writing (as did two other awesome students). Elisabeth stays after to clean up the mess left by another student. William helps also. I will miss Julia’s mature, sensitive writing style. Many make me laugh. And they don’t bug me (much) about my messy desk.

How I know it’s time…
– when I give a male student the choice of researching anyone’s life that he’s interested in learning more about and he chooses a male porn star (it didn’t happen)
– I find myself muttering under my breath too often
– my ocular migranes are increasing in frequency
– on the grumpy vs. silly scale, I’m leaning more toward the Dark Side
– students don’t listen. Don’t pay attention. Are incredibly distracted. Most students. Not all. I can say something, write it on the board, say it again, they have it on a handout in front of them…almost every time, someone will ask about it
– that book is not going to write itself; I need more time for such things

People give me ideas of what to do with my retirement. Recently, I was told that home-school organizations are always looking for teachers. Many districts need substitute teachers I’m told (not going to happen). And tutors make good money from what I hear. I’ve been told to travel a bunch. Many people predict my “honey do” list will get increasingly longer and longer. They say I’ll be more busy after retirement than when I was working full-time (though this last list of folks probably just has trouble saying ‘no’). I may try one of those ideas, but I’ve really enjoyed looking at all the possibilities; this next stage of my life feels akin to the high school and college graduates I know as they embark toward whatever’s next. Students I taught in middle school reminded me (in the ELHS commencement addresses) to “pursue my dreams” and “be innovative.” I’ve appreciated these events with a fresh, personal perspective and I’ve felt quite inspired by them.

It’s also been an emotional year for me. I tear up often, over crazy stuff: that last time, 6th hour, when I closed The Giver for the last time in front of my students; unexpectedly seeing Thia and her smile on my walk home; seeing Alex return after being gone for a long time for personal issues…and our hug; seeing Berkley’s name in a Literature book and thinking about the several, unique girls I have known with that name over the years. I’ve been on the verge daily. As joyous and giddy as I feel at times, I also get pretty choked up. Not a regretful feeling — I just know I’ll miss this great profession. I may need to do some of that tutoring after all. And I’m sure I will be writing about the next steps I take, whatever they are.

sign

Aaron gets off his bike in Seattle!

Rachel and Aaron
This afternoon, Aaron made it to Rachel and Robbie’s apartment in Seattle.
According to Rachel, he “busted through the door with a big “Hello!” And there was much whooping and laughing.
He traveled over 3,000 miles in 74 days (keeping very close to his 40 miles a day average that he planned on at the beginning). Judy and I are extremely happy, of course, that Aaron made it safely. We do appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers over the last couple months.

Some said it was inconceivable
or even impossible
to comprehend “letting” him go
on the trip (as if we had any say in the matter).
Though we were very concerned about his safety,
our over-riding feelings were (and are) pride, excitement, jealousy, curiosity, and joy.

I was looking for a poem to express this combination of feelings and the following They May Be Giants song comes pretty close.

“Impossible” by They Might Be Giants (just the music, no motion)

And Aaron would probably say that this trip isn’t really over…so here’s one more They May Be Giants tune (this one has cool stop-motion visuals) that seems to fit.

“Happy Doesn’t Have to Have an Ending”

Both of these songs come off of the
Bed, Bed, Bed CD which is $15 at this website.

Here’s another look at the most recent the google map if you need it.
And here’s another look at the middle part of his journey.
And here’s another look at the beginning part of his journey.

On to Orcas Island

I wrote a lot on the google map. Please check it out (and all the links!).
Here’s a teaser video. It’s from the top of Mt. Constitution, which is where Aaron called us from today.
OMG!

Okay, one more thing. Hitch hiking is promoted on Orcas Island. Aaron met a hitch hiker and noticed these Rideshare signs. It’s a different world on the island.
hitch rideshare

A desire to learn = hopefulness

The other day, I was practicing disc (frisbee) golf with a friend. We were flicking our discs into one disc golf basket he had purchased. I mentioned that every time I throw a disc, I plan to make it in the basket. He seemed surprised. That’s just the way I approach things. Call it ‘confidence.’ Call it ‘hope.’ It just makes more sense to me than thinking I’m going to miss.
disc-golf-basket-vector

Think about it. When you shoot a basketball, throw a disc, tell a joke, bike across the country…whatever…do you plan on success? Any effort seems worthy of the hope that it will be successful. Sure, I’m going to miss my share, but why focus on that?

I think learning is similar. Being the naturally curious person I am is really a way I express hope. If I didn’t want to learn something, it would be like saying I didn’t care about my future. Putting in the effort to learn something new is my way of saying I want to be better in the future. And that there’s a future worth being better in.

Here are a few interesting things to learn:

* Gamestar Mechanic teaches kids how to design their own games.

* This one is an Online Personal Finance Game.

* An article about the subject: Games and the Common Core: Two Movements that Need Each Other (and the Edutopia “Games for Learning Resources” page)

* Making Stop Motion Movies (everything you need to know) by Kevin H.

The next thing I want to try is to combine juggling and jogging. As it turns out, it’s not that unique. Check out this short video about it.

Stay hopeful, my friends.

P.S. By the way, I still believe in the importance of failing. Just because I take an optimistic view of things doesn’t mean I don’t know the importance of trying/failing/learning/trying again (repeat as needed). Check out Kevin’s great blog entry on the subject.

Videos with messages

My 7th grade classes are reading Science Fiction stories these days. We watched a couple Twilight Zone episodes along the way, too. Once they figured out that I wasn’t talking about the Twilight Book Series, they seemed intrigued by the TZ episodes, if not a bit freaked out by the plots.

And some of my 7th graders had been to new art museum at MSU — the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, to be specific — and they made the connection to a video in the basement. Marco Brambilla’s Evolution (Megaplex) piece is a 3D explosion of video, history, and commentary that really needs to be experienced to be (almost) understood. The video has so many iconic images presented in a hog-podge/collage that I thought I was in a dream-state several times. I cannot create a link to it for you, though.

On the other hand, a recent video by Cyriak comes close. NPR called it Watch The 1950s Get Its Mind Blown, which is an oddly, apt title. The music is by Bonobo and the video is also on their site. The video is called “Cirrus” (follow the link or watch it, below…but if it isn’t loading, refresh this page).

The first drumstick beat is at the 17th second…and that’s when everything changes. It becomes the 1950s meets MTV meets the U. S. of Dystopia. A look into the way our modern technologies have taken our souls and transformed us into little robots. We think we have lives and choice, but we are in predictable boxes following a motorized, electrical carrot we can’t even see. When I show my students this video this week, I’m pretty sure they’ll see bits of the Twilight Zone and the video from the art museum. They’ll feel the creepy, Science Fiction mood…but will they see themselves at all? Will they see/hear/consider the message and warning, even though they are not all descendants of that white, 1950s snapshot?

After that video, they may need a Pep Talk from Kid President. I know I will.