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Saturday, November 26, 2005

[essay] An Iowan Let Loose in Europe - part 2

Thoughts from the Road as an Iowa Farm Boy ponders the Reasons Iowans are seldom allowed to wander the World unchecked

Part 1 here

Part 2: Of dance clubs and cellphone antennae…
     Now, I'm not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about Belgium, or even Europe in general. But I do know this. Antwerp is one strange looking city.
     Allow me to explain.
     It's not an ugly city, nor is it an unclean city. It's not entirely unfriendly. And it's more than a little breathtaking. The thing that goes great lengths towards making Antwerp strange would have to be its odd juxtapositions. On the same city block you will find a weather-worn cobblestone street that winds around gorgeous archecture that appears utterly and wonderfully ancient, direcly next to a shiny steel building with an advertisement in front for life insurance.
     It's an old city. That much is obvious in places. However, it's an old city that is working to enter a new century. While some parts indeed need to remain old in order to preserve the history (and cater to the tourist crowds), others areas definitely need to reflect the presence of consumerism, because, well, honestly that's the default setting of a capitalist society. Keep in mind, this isn't a bad thing, necessarily. The exact same thing occurs in the United States. The difference comes down to nothing more than about an extra thousand years worth of architecture. So much of the United States is relatively new when compared to Europe, that when these changes and "updates" occur, it isn't so drastic a reformation. But in a city so tremendously rooted in its vast history, these updates have an obvious affect on the cityscape.
     As I look out the window, I'm greeted by an old building next to the river that has a promenade running alongside it. If you look closely, the building says "discoteek" on the side. Dance clubs must have been pretty popular in 15th century Europe.
     As I turn and look the other direction, I see a large church-like structure (not the famed Catherdral in the center of Antwerp, but some smaller church near the Scheldt that I assume must be intended for some lesser religious organization like Methodists, or Snake Handlers, but definitely not Catholics, because, c'mon—it's no Cathedral). This church has a spire protruding up its north face, and on top of that spire is a set of cellphone antennas. This is considered progress by some, a nuisance by others, likely. And while I am all for progress—especially in a communications infrastructure—is it truly necessary to descecrate such a spectacular historical building in order to further the progress of cellphone availability?
     The most important facet of this discussion would have to be the future of such progress. Consider the fact that capitalism has developed as a concept at its current exponential rate of growth only within the past couple of hundred years or so, since the onset of the industrial revolution. Before that, capitalism was really limited to bartering for pigs or crafting your own gold using the ancient mystical process of alchemy. So if major advancements in capitalism have only occurred within the past two or three centuries, what does that mean for the coming future in a continent that has existed for several millennia? If the past two hundred years is any indication of what is to come in the next two hundred years, then what will become of Antwerp's landscape? Are the clergy of the mini-Cathedral destined to become independently wealthy?
     On a side note, how can someone be "independently wealthy"? Doesn't the very name suggest that one can also be "dependently wealthy"? So what would it mean to be "dependently wealthy"? I'm rich because I get all my money from my parents? I suppose you really couldn't call yourself wealthy then, could you? So we should probably stop saying that some people are "independently wealthy" since it just doesn't really make any sense. Of course, it seems as though I'm the only one saying "independently wealthy" anymore, so maybe I should simply shut up.
     Back to the topic of capitalism. Regardless of the outcome of the debate on the consumer-focused future of Antwerp, one thing remains painfully clear. No matter what happens, they had better not lose their drunken Scotsman.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

[essay] An Iowan Let Loose in Europe

Thoughts from the Road as an Iowa Farm Boy ponders the Reasons Iowans are seldom allowed to wander the World unchecked

Part 1: Looking back, I was a pretty stupid kid…
     I was seven years old when I first experienced the sensation of being knocked unconscious. I say first, but I don't honestly recall having been knocked unconscious at any point since then. I suppose it is a bit irresponsible of me to say that I haven't since it is very probable that I have, and just don't remember it. Let's just say that I haven't, and assume that for now. I'll let you know if I suddenly decide to remember things differently.
     In any case, I was alone in our barn on the family farm, as I often was, being the youngest of four, separated from my nearest sibling by five years. I spent much of my early years by myself, being reckless and uncouth, and other adjectives old people have for young people. It was 1983, and family farmers like my dad were struggling in the hostile economy, but that's not why I was knocked unconscious. It mostly had to do with the fact that I was playing on top of the hay bales—the really big, round ones, stacked three high. I was playing, as farm kids do, on top of those hay bales, and I made the mistake—the severely misinformed mistake, I later acknowledged—of thinking that I could jump from the precarious stack of hay bales to the window on the far experior wall of the barn.
     I'm not big on math, especially geometry. You couldn't have convinced me at that time through the use of charts and graphs, measuring distances and calculating probabilities, that I couldn't make it from the hay bales over to the window on the far exterior wall of the barn. I was a determined young man, and more than that, I was more than slightly stubborn. I passed that quality on to my son.
God, please help him to at least reach the age of eight.
     I opened my eyes and looked up at the ceiling of the barn through a confusing veil of hay that had landed on my face. I remember thinking that it was awfully dark for being so early in the afternoon. I stood up, and then quickly sat back down due to the piercing, throbbing pain in the side of my head. I sat for a while, letting thought once again take root in the swirling void of my mind. I looked up at the window, several feet above me. And, in case you are one of those pesky geometry people, I should note that by saying several feet, the actual distance I mean to convey is approximately 12 feet. Needless to say—but I'm saying it anyway—I didn't make it to the window. Also needless to say, it was now night time. I had really only been unconscious about three or four hours.
     I know what you're probably thinking: what does this magical childhood memory have to do with a trip to Europe? Well, nothing, really, and thanks for bringing it up. I suppose that the main reason I chose to retell this particular story from my own personal historical archives was because it is my quintessential example of life on the farm. I was an Iowa farm boy, and I suffered for it.
     Let's be honest, being a farm kid in the carefree days of the mid-80s meant that you suffered. All farm kids suffered for being farm kids. You suffered for your entertainment, and you suffered from your entertainment. You walked around on the gravel roads and in the forests nearby in your bare feet. You crashed your bike into every solid object within biking distance, up to and including your siblings, not that they're incredibly solid. At least, not after you've run into them a few times with your bike.
     Chances are the average farm kid has been the victim of numerous merciless attacks by terrorist livestock uprisings. Or, more likely, you just tortured and taunted the poor beasts into developing a deep, seething hatred of you and your kind. I'm not too proud to say that I've been subjected to several seemingly coordinated attacks from some pretty vicious cows. That's what I get for agreeing to help dad (child labor laws be damned!) by standing in the middle of the road when he and my brother were herding cattle from one field to another. Imagine a young child attempting to be an obstruction to a herd of cows' attempts to be unagreeable cattle. Hilarity ensues. Cue laughtrack. Roll credits.
     Despite our parent's best efforts to thwart our continued existence, we all lived. And eventually, we all did very well. Each of our parent's children went to—and subsequently successfully escaped—college. We got jobs. We gained families. We accumulated friends. And at least two of us who had previously decided they wanted to write for a living, ended up working in computers for companies based in Des Moines.
     We now look back at our lives as farm kids in horror and humor. We are absolutely astonished that we lived through those reckless years, and confident that we could never get away with half the stuff we did then in today's world.
     But this isn’t about my childhood, and it isn't about my family. It's about Europe. And more than that, it's about how my life as the stereotypical uncultured Iowan shaped my perspective on Europe.
     As I write this, I'm sitting on the floor of an apartment next to the river Scheldt in the city of Antwerp, Belgium. The apartment isn't mine, it's actually supplied by my company for people visiting our European headquarters, located a half-hour's drive south in the countryside city of Herentals. Belgium itself is nestled between France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and there's also a little bit of Luxembourg touching them on the east, but I don't think they mind.

Part 2 here

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Writing Project: Rain and Hail

     Part 1: Objectives
     Part 2: Gleaning Truth

Word count: 2,633 (unfinished)

Story type: short story, serial format (ongoing parts will be published as they are completed)

Story summary: a misfit trio of superheroes are under the tutelage of an experienced telepath simply called 'Mother'. As they continue master their skills and work to become a team, they are confronted with a mission that may jeopardize everything they struggle to maintain.

Comments: comments on my writing are welcome and appreciated. Please post your comments here on this thread. And I truly thank you for your constructive criticism!