Sunday, November 11, 2012

European highlights, a retrospective

In several hours this long awaited and long lasting European adventure will be over. From the screen of my laptop computer weeks ago to the experience of actually being here, in the thick of things, now, the continent has become something special to me, more closely tied to things like the Roma Termini train station or other means of connecting the city with the rest of the world.

The rest of the world. It becomes a focus only because I rest reasonably far away from general civilization. When you actively choose to visit a graveyard, you also inactively choose not to visit anywhere else of historical significance during that time.

But in the interest of sharing a series of some of the most fascinating stops while I've traveled through Europe the past week, I'll explain why stopping by the Protestant Cemetery in Roma was worth being alienated briefly from the rest of the world.

Protestant Cemetery, Roma

I don't know whether or not my decision to come to Roma was more based off of a livelong fascination with the city (which I can attest for the existence of these many many years), or a more recent fascination with the life of John Keats.

Would it be fair to say that my reasoning is a bit of both? Going to the burial place of Keats at the Protestant Cemetery near Piramide Metro Station in Roma, I was calmed and pleased by the presence of so many others at the plot where stood "all that was mortal" of the love of my life.

I spent a few hours in the place. And while it may sound silly, it became one of the highlights of my entire journey around Roma and around Europe. There was just something so ideal about being in a quiet, funerary spot.

Prater, Wien

Alternatively, the Prater theme park (of sorts) in Wien, Austria, is not morbid of quiet however it has become quite abandoned in recent years due to a lack of enthusiasm by the general public. The Prater was one of the first amusement parks (if not the first) in the world and includes attractions like a ferris wheel and various rollercoasters, gift shops and food stands.

It wasn't the most fancy or architecturally stunning location in the city, but there was something about the history of it and the casual existence of it just within the city confines that felt special somehow. It's a theme park in a city. It's quiet and slightly abandoned. But it still has a lot of heart. I could feel that heart just walking around.

Dachau, München

Despite the distempered responses I've received since writing about my experience in Dachau - including those which did exactly what I explained was most disheartening about being "half-Jewish," as I call myself (and will continue to do regardless of dissenting opinions) - I would still like to list the experience of traveling to the concentration camp at Dachau among my most valuable experiences in Europe. And actually, as one of my most valuable experiences of all time.

To anyone who questions my authenticity or the connection I have with what occurred on the ground of that place so many years ago, I say that maybe it actually is none of your business. Maybe I shouldn't have shared it. Because, in truth, what I experienced and what anyone experiences when visiting Dachau, is a connection between themselves and whatever higher power strikes them as concerned, regardless of denomination and regardless of personal history.

In response to those who believe I have no right to align myself with my Jewish ancestors because I was brought up with different beliefs, let me just say that I still take issue with this argument. Though I appreciate the input and definitely understand why some might take offense, I still believe that everyone is the harbinger of their own cultural alignments, as aided by their upbringing and personal convictions and no one in the world except oneself has any right to dictate otherwise.

I am half-Jewish in the cultural but not religious sense. And there are plenty of non-practicing Jews who would likely align themselves similarly. Just because I don't follow the religion doesn't mean I deserve to lose the ability to explain the aspects of myself that aren't correctly described by a geographical location. My family were Eastern European nomads, but what characterized them within their culture was their Jewish community. It's not just a word denoting religion, but also the customs that surround that religion and don't necessarily need to be passed on through the religion. Still, I appreciate the alternative viewpoint and hope for peaceful coexistence. But I digress.

Den Lille Havfrue

To take away a bit of the stain of the more dramatic aspects of this post, I'll return to the very first part of my trip which was to the beautiful non-denominational statue of Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid) in København.

As someone who has long appreciated animated films and the fairy tales that are their source material, seeing this statue in person and remembering the history of the story and the man behind it (Hans Christian Andersen), made it one of the most important moments of my European voyage. It wasn't a personal or familial connection like Dachau, nor was it a quiet contemplative one like the Protestant Cemetery or the Prater. But it was a place to reflect on an object that is of personal significance to me - that has brought value and direction to my life for years. I guess you could say the same of some of the other places I visited, but in a strange way a Little Mermaid statue seems to be a good symbol of what I want out of life. The peace of storytelling and a quiet place to partake in it.

Thank you, Europe

Even while writing this blog I've been through some ups and downs. And Europe itself showed me some of those, depending on the hour and the day and the location. But overall the experience was irreplaceable and invaluable. I could never have wished for a better introduction to Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy. And I will have quite a bit of trouble leaving tomorrow.

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