Friday, August 28, 2009

Done-In in Dublin

My three days in Dublin came and went very quickly, mostly due to a rambunctious weekend in New York and mild jet-lag that turned severe in my case (breakfast at 3pm, anyone?). By the time I got out the door each day, it was already pushing five in the afternoon, so my sightseeing remained regrettably limited to walking around and taking pictures of places as they closed. Still, the glowing warmth of the people I met in the Irish capital tempered the chilly, late-summer weather, and contrary to popular myth, most Irish are not freckled red-heads (though it is indeed a striking phenotype). I noticed right away the athleticism of the women and the scrappiness of the men; this does not seem a society made soft by generations of office work. Bikes are prevalent and the city is infinitely walkable; despite often gloomy weather, there's still no reason for laziness.

Due to the recent economic boom that went bust with the rest of the world's economy, Dublin is surprisingly multicultural, with notable communities of Africans and Asians, as well as Europeans of all stripes. The guys at the Centra who let me use their phone: Mexican and Lithuanian. The bartender at the CouchSurfing Zone: Russian. The cooks at the kebab place just off O'Connell: Venezuelan and Portuguese. Of course, I ended up being adopted by the local Brazilian contingent—estimated at 10,000—who come to the country to learn English because of less-stringent visa requirements. I now have immediate offers of temporary lodging in São Paulo when I arrive, and a slew of friends and relatives to contact. I was complimented on conversing in Portuguese for 40-minutes straight, which got me excited about the prospect of near-fluency within a matter of months. Those darn Brazilians...they get you excited about everything.

I also got a chance to hang with the family of one of my best friends in Colombia, with whom I worked at the university in Bogotá and had zillions of conversations on race and politics and on how blacks and the Irish should be natural allies in the face of shared oppression and as the joint cultural originators of American music. There was no stuffiness or pretense at dinner with Kathy's engaging family (starring an 8-year-old bon vivant named Henry), just great food and good belly laughs at her expense (Star Trek convention, luv?). ;-)

Admittedly, not seeing any of the renowned museums (they're all free!) because of a jacked-up sleep schedule threw a wrench in my plan of attack, so that'll be something I'll try not to duplicate in the future. Meanwhile, it gives me an excuse to come back to Dublin.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

"I'm Not Afraid of the Future"

When people hear about my round-the-world trip, they immediately envision the project in its enormous scope. They count the cities, the continents. They wonder aloud at the spectrum of cultures to absorb, people to meet, experiences to be had. Their jaws slacken as they conceptualize the voyage and formulate their personal version of "Can I go with you?" They ask if I'm excited.

Up until today, my excitement was (still is, somewhat) tempered by the necessary and very boring, unglamorous, and sometimes-frustrating process of planning and executing a three-month round-the-world trip, followed directly by a trans-equatorial move. Confirming flights, securing lodging, organizing finances, locating addresses, preparing documentation, and packing bags necessarily shift the focus from the grand scheme to logistical minutiae; I don't have time to get very excited about the endeavor as a whole because I have to look at and manage each step as it comes in order to keep from missing a step. And this is indeed the grandest endeavor I've ever undertaken.

The past few months have been marked by a series of miniature milestones that I've anticipated anxiously as they approached: the end of the school year and my move from Colombia, visiting friends in Venezuela and Panama, reconnecting with my family in Florida, soaking up positive energy on the West Coast, retracing my steps in DC, celebrating my impending departure in New York. These events have come and gone, and nothing's left now but the departure itself—a launch from my country, my culture, my friends and family, my familiar into the unknown. No returning to a job in a month. No coming back to my honey or dog or goldfish or plants in a week. No plan other than to collect as many experiences and as many life-long friends around the world as possible over the next three months, then make a go of life in the Big Apple of the Southern Hemisphere. It's deep, y'all. Enough to frighten most people.

In fact, I almost succumbed to the fear, myself. Coming back to the States, I felt bombarded by the propaganda of American capitalism: buy, buy, buy! I started to feel like a loser because my cell phone couldn't take pictures or tell me how to get to the closest Italian restaurant or bake a birthday cake. I felt like I needed to come back, get an MBA, get a "real" job, and start acquiring things. Thank the Cosmos that all my plane tickets are non-refundable. I'm not disparaging folks for having all the latest gadgets and flyest kicks and the new-new whip; but I've learned, mostly because of traveling overseas, that memyselfpersonally, I don't really need those things. Stability, yes. Accoutrements, no.

And right now, on the cusp of the next chapter in my life, I'm suddenly, unexpectedly ready for the unknown.


And excited.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

From the AV Room: Philly Prodigy

While I catch up from a hellified week of handling personal business before the trip and the move, I thought I'd share this inspiring clip of a 13-year-old violin virtuoso that I encountered last week earning a lot of change on the street in Philadelphia:

Philly Prodigy from Fly Brother on Vimeo.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Sharing Experiences" Gets Fly Brother to Share

Last week, Edinburgh-based writer Andy Hayes featured me on his travel website, Sharing Experiences. This is my first international interview and I was honored to have been profiled. Here's an excerpt:

To explain the name Fly Brother, I need to lay down a little cultural background knowledge. In black American vernacular, “fly” as an adjective refers to something attractive, roguishly sophisticated, and well-put-together, be it a possession, a concept, or a person. “Brother,” of course, is a nod to my being an African-American male. The usage of Fly Brother, then, speaks to both my affinity for air travel and my roguish sophistication (*wink*).
Read the entire interview here, then continue exploring Andy's engrossing site.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Packing a Lot of Crap into Two Small Bags: A Photographic Journey

Dateline: Jacksonville, my 15-year-old brother's room (which I have commandeered for the two months I've been home). With the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I'm all packed for three months on the road. Observe:

That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.


Gracias, Mamita!

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Friday, August 7, 2009

A Brief Assertion: There Is No Other Country On Earth With As Many Amazing Cities As The USA

Photo by niddler.

I've never been known as a flag-waving, red-white-and-blue-bleeding patriot (often, quite the opposite), but there is one thing I am constantly in awe of and can never begrudge the United States: the greatness of its largest cities. Over the past few weeks, I've been to several American burgs, each one unique in its history, culture, and atmosphere; each a national, if not international, center of industry, commerce, communication, and transport; each with myriad museums, restaurants, concerts, festivals, and other markings of cosmopolitan sophistication. Say what you will about Wonder Bread suburban monoculture—America's cities as parts of a larger whole are unmatched anywhere else on the planet. I doubt any other country has as many places peopled by representatives of every cultural group on Earth:

Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York*

Take any of the cities I just named, and you can come up with any random dish, type of music, style of dance, or artistic movement: there's samba and salsa in Seattle, pad Thai in Miami, Guinean drum circles in Houston, and Tahitian dance classes in New York. And the ease of internal migration and the abundance of external immigration means the fusion of local traditions with recent additions.

Naysayers might erroneously invoke Europe as a comparison: there is none. Europe is a collection of independent nations with their attendant histories, languages, and former colonial empires. The majority of major cities on the Continent and the Isles are ex-imperial capitals, where wealth and power were concentrated during a multi-century competition with neighboring metropoli. The greatest American cities developed through a balance of domestic and international interests, without being national, or sometimes even state capitals. Besides, the United States is still only one country; there are others larger and more populous.

Then, there are equally vast nations, such as China or India for instance, with a large cadre of population centers that are, unfortunately, just that: agglomorations of people drawn together, like all cities, by virtue of resources and opportunity, but largely homogenous relative to their enormous population size and not very well-known on an international scale as models of economic or cultural diversity.

Yes, American cities deal with gang violence and grit, economic and social disparity, declining educational output and unemployment, pollution and inadequate public transportation. But these ills drive the best and brightest in their quest for liveable, enjoyable hometowns. The country is the biggest beneficiary of that work, manifested in those swarming hubs of human interaction where city lights outshine stars.

*I'm purposely excluding "niche" cities like Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu, or New Orleans; or "secondary" places like Charlotte, San Antonio, Portland, or Denver, despite soaring cosmopolitanism in each.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Chi-Town Surprise

From my unplanned, surprise weekend in Chicago—architectural gem and friendly metropolis: