Tag Archives: summer

The Chapel at Ft. Reno

imageDown the road a ways from Oklahoma City, down Rt. 66 West, you’ll find the city of El Reno. If you’re driving that way you’ll pass right smack through the middle of it. At first glance, it looks like modern times haven’t been too kind to El Reno. Most of the buildings downtown are vacant, little more than glorified pidgeon roosts. You want to believe that this isn’t the whole story, but there isn’t much else to go on. Second and third glances confirm your first glance.

If you park your car and get out and cross the street to the Old Opera House, you’ll see a fading mural on a brick wall. If you walk under the awning, you might be startled by pidgeons swooping down and flying across the street. You’ll notice pidgeon droppings on the sidewalk and broken windows in the shop fronts. It’s the middle of the day but something about this place feels spooky.

You might decide to hurry back to your car since it’s kind of hot outside and that man across the street looks a little wierd. You hate yourself for thinking that but it’s just what you think. If you drive around town, you’ll see some of the old houses where the townies live. Some have porches sunken in, paint peeling off the walls. There’s an old Victorian style house all in brown that must have been beautiful at one time, and there’s a stately house, all white with pillars that looks out of place next to its shabby neighbors. You wonder if everyone knows the family that lives there.

imageInstead of turning back, you continue down Rt. 66 for just a ways to see what else there is to see. There’s a sign for Ft. Reno and you figure you don’t have much to lose but time and you got plenty of that, so you go ahead and exit towards the fort and continue one mile down the road. The landscape is flat and green and brown all around you. There are lines of trees here and there and some gentle sloping but no major hills.

You park in front of the museum, which used to be an officer’s house. You learn that from the woman behind the front counter, who says they now charge admission prices as of August first. It’s two dollars for an adult. She tells you about the fort and how it started as a way to keep the Indians in check and then had some other uses throughout the years as a stablery and some other things. Apparently Seabiscuit’s sire was bred here. Now it’s a headquarters for the USDA. You pass on into the next room and  overhear her talking to another group. Her grandfather had a farm not too far from here.

Outside you can hear cicadas in the trees and someone mowing the lawn. You take a look around the old house and then head out to your car again and drive towards the chapel. This is where they have a lot of weddings during the summer. The chapel is small and not much to look at from the outside. It’s white washed like all the other buildings here and faces the big green lawn at the center of everything.

imageThe door is slightly cracked and you walk in. The first thing that hits you is the smell of warm wood. Everything in the chapel is made out of pine, and the windows are colored yellow so the sunlight coming through them looks like honey. The air is cool in here and you are alone among the empty pews and pulpit. You sit down on a pew near the window and just sit there.

Outside you can hear the man riding the lawnmower still. You can imagine him sweating under his hat, making neat sweeps on the grass which looks all faded in the noonday sun. His feet are hot in his boots. There is a cicada rattling in a nearby tree. You can hear the chapel settling and creaking and almost feel the air as it rises and settles in currents around you. It carries dust with it.

You sit in the light, the light that looks like honey and is warm like teddy grahams. Your hands rest on the smooth, cool wood of the pew, palms down. It feels you have stolen a moment away, that any second someone will call for you or ask you to help with something.

But no one calls. You continue to sit in the Ft. Reno chapel, and outside the man continues circling the lawn until every blade of grass is cut.

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A Failing Grade for Italian Tourism

This is the sun setting over the Italian countryside near San Benedetto del Tronto. You may now weep from the beauty.

I returned from my Italian adventure at the ripe hour of 2:30 on Sunday morning, Cairo’s hazy smog clouds welcoming me in an open cough to its crowded haphazard streets. Upon evaluating to what extent my trip was a failure or a success based upon a numerical gradation of the number of goals I accomplished, I found that even with partial credit given, I only achieved a raw score of 45.45%, otherwise known as an F. Unfortunately this means I will have to go to Italy once again in the spring in order to try to achieve a passing score and graduate onto other countries.

Below I will evaluate the success of my trip objective by objective:

1. Eat Italian food. SUCCESS

Accomplished with surprising ease. In direct defiance of variety, Italians tend to eat Italian food every day, even eschewing other respectable ethnic cuisines like Mexican or Chinese.

2. Drink fermented Italian beverages. SUCCESS

I made my own Italian wine by stealing some grapes from a neighbor’s vineyard, mashing them up, putting yeast in my sock, throwing it all in an empty 7 UP bottle and letting it sit in the sun. When it was nice and bubbly I passed it an a bottle of Tylenol around and we had ourselves a great time.

3. Sit in a meadow and breathe. SUCCESS

After panting up a rather steep hill, I and companion came upon an old villa that overlooked the city and right in front of it was a steep decline that led into a meadow. I scrambled down it and sat in the shade of a tree for a few moments while my travel companion, who is not the meadow sitting sort, opted to wait for me. I could smell fresh mint around me and had almost achieved spiritual revelation when I remembered my companion and I crawled back up and we got on with our lives.

4. Nap on the beach in a one piece bathing suit. SUCCESS

My ten dollar public-swimming-pool-blue swimsuit I bought in Ecuador is not holding up great, but it sure does accent my pasty white flesh. When I arrived at the beach and stripped down to my swimwear, my Italian host’s parents asked me if it was my first time at the beach, and I grabbed her mother by her shoulders, stared at her with desperate eyes and said “In the sun…it’s my first time in the sun…”

5. Find something with little blue flowers on it to purchase and call my own. Place in someone else’s bag and claim they stole it. FAIL

Lots of crap to buy, nothing I wanted with little blue flowers.

6. Find cool gifts for the family to replace what I originally planned to bring back for them: pyramid keychains and little piles of sand. FAIL

Gifts are way too expensive in Italy. For the price of one scarf for my sister in Italy I could buy her an entire loom and weaving lessons in Egypt.

7. Get in as many people’s photos as possible while at touristy sites like the Colosseum and the Pope’s wax museum. HALF CREDIT

We tried getting in people’s pictures, but the angles proved fairly awkward so we settled for taking pictures of the tourists themselves. Vouyeristic? Possibly. Sue me.

8. Go to a hair salon and get my bangs cut. Refuse to pay and see what happens. HALF CREDIT

I didn’t go to hair salon since, as stated previously, it would have been expensive and the language barrier would have made the “not paying” thing more difficult to explain. I did, however, cut my bangs myself. Since no one notices I cut them, I believe  I have avoided a case of awkward bangs for the first time since I started cutting my bangs myself. Great success.

9. Speak with an Italian accent the whole time and see how many best friends I make. FAIL 

I opted to speak fake Italian and Spanish mixed together. I really felt I could speak Italian after having even one glass of wine, but it was interesting to note that Italians themselves continued to not understand me.

10. Verify my hypothesis that Spanish and Italian are actually the same language. HALF CREDIT

I’m giving myself half credit for this since if I spoke Spanish with people, they would usually understand what I was saying. However, these interactions were usually accompanied by wild hand gestures that corresponded to what flavors of ice cream I wanted, so I can’t say the theory was widely tested outside of ice cream shops.

11. Take a nap at least once. SUCCESS

Napped once in the bungalow, once on the beach, once in the hotel room, and once under a tree.

12. Claim I am the direct descendant of the last emperor and declare my rule over Italy via public service announcement. FAIL

13. Pretend to be German and wear socks with my sandals. HALF CREDIT

Though I did not pretend to be German, I did wear my adventure sandals everywhere. Italians do not wear adventure sandals. If it weren’t already painfully obvious by the pallor of my skin and hair that I was not Italian, my disgustingly practical footware gave it away even before I got to speaking fake Italian.

14. Coat myself in glue and then roll in macaroni. Run through the streets screaming like the famous Italian macaroni monster. HALF CREDIT

My colleague still managed to scare a child by almost running him over on a bike. The bike was unharmed.

15. Say “Mamma mia!” as many times as possible. FAIL

I only said it once and no one even heard me. They do say it a lot though.

16. Stare at my travel companion on the train when he’s not looking at me and then look away quickly when he suspects something. Repeat continually. HALF CREDIT

Instead of staring, I would fall asleep right as we boarded any form of transportation and my mouth would instantly gape open, something equally disconcerting.

17. Politely ask flight attendants to not make eye contact with me and explain I usually sit in the first class but there was a misunderstanding with my company and they booked the wrong ticket. FAIL

18. Blend in with the locals by covering my face in pizza sauce. HALF CREDIT

I unwittingly walked around for a while with some food bits on my face, though I don’t think it helped me blend in with any locals.

19. Pick and eat my own wild mushrooms. HALF CREDIT

My companion and I stumbled upon a park/orchard and we ate figs and plums right off of the trees. We called it foraging but I’m not sure if that term is properly used if one is gathering fruit in an orchard.

20. Make a new facebook friend. SUCCESS

My Italian host friended me on facebook and I accepted and her family has insisted on us coming again next year for a week. I don’t know if they are sincere but I, for one, am sincerely not ashamed of taking them up on the offer. I have proclaimed them welcome to my home in Oklahoma, but I don’t think I’m in any real danger of them accepting.

21. Fight a wild boar to the death. Eat its flesh. HALF CREDIT

I did eat boar on a bed of polenta in a medieval city, washed it down with a beer and was then married off to someone against my will, just like a real medieval lass.

22. Purchase a new spear and go truffle hunting. HALF CREDIT

I ate something with truffle oil on it and it was delicious. It was the food equivalent of being hugged on the mouth by a mushroom.

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34 ways to express cowardice when confronted with a difficult test

The end of the summer portion of the CASA program is near and we are currently in what might be called finals week. Normally, final tests have some relation to the material presented throughout the course of study, measuring the cumulative progress of the pupil. In the case of the tests of Professor Harb, however, the test has no purpose aside from inspiring fear and hopelessness among her students. Let the incontinent student beware:  you might need a fresh pair of pants after glancing through the exercises on the test and realizing no amount of studying would have saved you from the ensuing humiliation.

In other words, Professor Harb’s test was difficult. After finishing the 2 hr and 15 minute long affair, I rose from my seat and limped to her desk to turn in the test, my left foot having fallen asleep while my brain was being crushed by the Arabic language. Cackling at my pain, she says, “What, you can’t even walk?” I whimper, “The test was hard….” She gets up from her chair, walks around the side of the desk, slaps me across the face, and says, “Shame on you. The test was not hard.” I made up that last portion, but she might as well have slapped me. With the one exception of the entrance exam for CASA itself, this was the hardest Arabic test that I have faced in my life, but it is over now and there is nothing left to do in Prof. Harb’s class except for doodle and drool during the 2 hours I have with her tomorrow.

But in all honesty, Prof. Harb is great and she’s probably one of the best professors in the program and I’m happy to be in her class because I learn things and she loves teaching. She considers us her children and I consider her a non-hostile life form, so it’s not like I’m unhappy in the class. But the test was hard, so here are possible routes of action I thought for the future (read: fall) when faced with a similarly difficult test.

1. Stealthily climb out the window and down the side of the building.

2. Jump out the window and end it all.

3. Jump out the window and onto the pergola 20 meters from the side of the building. Climb down the pergola to safety.

4. Hide behind a curtain.

5. Hide under your desk.

6. Hide under someone else’s desk.

7. Hide under professor’s desk.

8. Go to the bathroom for the entire class period.

9. Hide behind the projection screen and hope she doesn’t see your feet.

10. Camouflage yourself by putting the wastebasket on your head.

11. Plead insanity.

12. Plead stupidity.

13. Sit for a while and try to take the test, then pretend to realize you’re from a different class and don’t belong amongst the test takers.

14. Pretend you’re someone else and only look like the student who was supposed to take the test.

15. Kill the professor.

16. Kill the other students, then the professor.

17. Kill yourself, then the other students, then the professor.

18. Close your eyes and hope it all goes away.

19. Close your eyes, lift your hands towards heaven, and offer the test as a sacrifice to God, pleading for Him to consume it with an all consuming fire.

20. Set the test on fire yourself, claim your classmate did it, then run out of the room screaming.

21. Make a paper airplane out of the test and then set it on fire.

22. Eat the test instead of taking it, claiming to have misunderstood the exercise.

23. Return the test to the teacher with a spit mark on it saying you found it insultingly simple.

24. Report the test as an incident of abuse.

25. Report the test as an act of terrorism that inspired fear in the heart of an American.

26. Use the test as a diary to talk about your feelings and hope that’s good enough.

27. Explain that you never actually learned how to read.

28. Hide the test and say you lost it. Repeat as needed.

29. Sprinkle soil and grass seeds on the test, moisten with water, plant in the earth and watch it grow the answers. Harvest answers and turn in the test.

30. Vomit on the test. Repeat as needed.

31. Say you appreciate the offer but you really couldn’t take a test today. Make sure you’re sincere.

32. Claim a religious reason: Arabic tests are considered an abomination on the 20th of every month according to Leviticus.

33. Try bargaining with the test; talk it down from its level of difficulty.

34. Stir up philosophical questioning amongst the students, aiming for a mass walkout: “What’s the point of all this anyways? In a few billion years when the sun blows up and the earth becomes a potato chip, who will care how we did on a stupid Arabic test?

35. Take an aspirin and then take the test. Obtain a tissue for the ensuing nosebleed. Schedule an MRI to make sure everything is still okay up there afterwards.

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