Florence and Rome

What can I say about Italy that hasn’t already been said by other people? The history, the culture, the food…. Rome was the center of one of the most advanced empires in the West, and Florence was the birthplace of the movement that reclaimed that Greco-Roman tradition, springing the West out of the Middle Ages and into Modernity. I was fortunate to see both with my siblings, and it was an unforgettable experience.

Florence first. I can’t tell you why exactly we selected Florence, all i knew was I did not want to be in Rome for Easter and Florence seemed like a fun, engaging city. Shortly before we left Bath, someone told me that Florence was “one big open-air museum.” Walking around the city late our first night, not two blocks from our hotel, we stumbled upon the Duomo, the first domed cathedral built in the Renaissance. It was only fitting that we had a great meal of homemade pasta, pizza, and local Chianti after this first experience.

Our second day was marked by one disappointment. We tried to get into the Uffizi Museum, home to some of the greatest artwork from Forentine and early Italian artists, but unfortunately it was a rainy day and every other tourist in the city had the same idea. In the two hours we waited, we only moved about 30 feet in the line. We said forget it, got lunch, and regrouped. Fortunately for us, the sun came out shortly after, and so we were able to explore the Ponte Vecchio, and then hike up to the Piazza Michelangelo for some amazing, postcard-quality views. Here you can really see the history played out, as well as understand just how impressive the Duomo really is. Dinner that night was Florentine BiStecca, a local steak lightly seasoned and served rare. Honestly, one of the best steaks I’ve had in my life. We ended up at a local study abroad bar before turning in for the night.

Day two we explored the Boboli gardens. If the Piazza Michelangelo was where you get unreal views of the city, the top of the Boboli Gardens is where you can situate the city in the Tuscan countryside. After a few hours here, we grabbed pizza at “Gusta Pizza,” which was a great way to round out our last day in this famous city.

A quick stop to grab our luggage and we caught a train for Rome. The 90 minute was the perfect amount of time to rally before we had to hit Rome hard. THe way we figured it, we had about 3 hours to see as much as we could before we had to head in the for the night, then get up early the next morning for our flight home. Fortunately, our hostel manager was a huge help in this regard. He gave us directions to the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountains from our hostel, And we were able to see both in the few hours we had in “The Eternal City.”

To be honest, though, I’m hesitant to even list Rome as a city we visited. Three hours in a city like Rome is completely inadequate, just enough time to do what we did, which is run around the city and take a few pictures. Our meal that night wasn’t even that good, just some run-of-the-mill tourist trap. Rome definitely deserves at least a few days, but hey, just means I’ll have to go back, right?

After that, it was a simple matter of a 30 minute train ride and a flight to Dublin, where we grabbed a pint and a meal, cleared Customs, and then flew back to Boston. So concludes a whirlwind Easter Break voyage to Europe, where I got to explore three very unique cities with my two siblings.

To be able to have this opportunity, and to be allowed to take the time off from work, I’m eternally grateful to my parents and to my colleagues. Onto the next one!

Bath, England

I love history. If you know anything about me, you know that I love delving into the stories, the evolution of a place over time, how ideas and individuals can impact a wider community. It should come as no surprise, then, that part of what continually draws me back to Europe is the stories of the places I visit. Bath, in the southwestern corner of the English Isle, is the perfect example of that.

Let me start by saying that no town is more aptly named. Legend has it that a pig with a skin disease got stuck in the muddy waters around a natural hot spring. When the pig’s condition was cured, people starting bathing in the waters, and in the first century AD (CE for my fellow historians out there), the Roman soldiers who were posted to the area built an elaborate shrine to the Roman goddess Minerva.

Today you can tour the original baths, which are now anywhere from 20 to feet below the streets of Bath. Incredibly, archaeologists have even uncovered slips of tin in which people scratched curses onto those who have wronged them, in addition to 8 bags filled with over 30,000 coins, and countless other artifacts from daily Roman life. To think that we were walking the same paths that Roman soldiers, civilians, priests, and merchants walked nearly 2,000 years ago really gives new meaning to “history.”

It’s one thing to visit a site that had been archaeologically excavated and preserved, and quite another to visit a place still living and breathing as it evolves. Bath Abbey, barely a stone’s throw away from the baths, is the largest church in the town, and was the site of King Edgar’s coronation in the 8th Century!

Over the years, as some of their most famous congregants died, commemorative plaques would be erected in their memory. We passed plaques to individuals who died when my own country was little more than a sanctuary for religious refugees on the outskirts of the empire.

“Okay, cool history lesson professor, but what about the whole ‘living and breathing’ bit from earlier?” We visited on Holy Saturday, and believe me when I tell you that the “Bath Abbey Flower Team” (not kidding!) was out in full force beautifying the Abbey for Easter Services. This was more than just a local landmark, a tourist site to visit to prove you went to Bath. This is the heart of the city, the center of community life.

This reflects Bath as a whole. I’ve talked a lot about the history of the town, but this is also a very young, very vibrant community. There’s three universities  that call Bath home (all bitter rivals) not to mention countless study abroad programs. All told, the town swells from 80,000 people to over 112,000 when school is in session, making Bath a great college town. When you combine the history, the youthfulness, and the fact that the entire city is extremely easy to navigate and is one of the most walkable cities I have ever visited, you get a great destination regardless of your interests.

The Placement Exchange: 2016

I survived! I survived this crazy marathon of first- and second-round interviews known as The Placement Exchange. Since I do not want to jinx anything, I am going to take this time to provide a few tips based on my experience for anyone who might want to attend in the future.

  • Do Your Homework: Depending on how your schedule ends up looking, you are probably not going to be able to do all your research in the few days you are at TPE. It’s important to at least get some basic info on the schools before you leave, and have some way to easily access other, more pertinent information. If you can name the mascot, the location of the school, the most popular or unique majors, and a fun fact or two you’re doing well so far. Either print out, bookmark, or upload copies of the school’s mission statement, info about the office you are interviewing with, and any other information you might need once on-site. This is good to review either the day before or immediately before your interview.
  • Go Early & Explore: Chances are your day will not end until six or seven in the evening, after which time you’re probably only thinking about food and crawling back to your hotel room. For us, we were fortunate to have a extra day to explore Indianapolis (interviews started on Wednesday, we arrived early Tuesday). We got to walk around the city, buy snacks and any last minute supplies, and explore the venue. On this day we were also able to time how long it took us to get from our hotel room to the interview venue (10 minutes comfortably, 7 minutes at a brisk pace).
  • Do Not Print Resumes: There will be a computer room with printers for you to do this, but even then you’ll really only need to print resumes to send them to employers. I didn’t have a single interviewer ask me for my resume once I got to the interview. Keep in mind they are also interviewing a large number of candidates and you’ve worked with them on scheduling so chances are they are already familiar with you and decided you are qualified for the position. Save yourself the space in your luggage, don’t print resumes before you go.
  • Interview the Interviewers! Use your time with the interviewers to get some idea of the office you’re looking to become a member of. Asking good questions can help with this, and it helps if you ask the same questions for each school to be able to compare (within reason, see below). It’s always interesting to see the personalities that schools select to represent their offices at events like this. Can you see yourself working for or with the one, two, or three people across the table from you? Do they seem close? Would you go to sporting events together, hang out in someone’s apartment, explore the surrounding area, or not? “Institutional fit” cuts both ways!
  • Find A Way To Stay Loose: Okay, the day has arrived. You have some big interviews today, your research is all printed out and packed. But now the nerves start to creep in…. What do you do? Find an answer to this question and you’ll be golden. For me, I really enjoyed striking up a conversation with the random people in the waiting room. What is an interview but telling your story to a complete stranger? Being able to do it mere minutes before you have to do it (and have it count!) is a great way to relieve a little bit of tension before you walk in. Eventually you start to form friendships with some of the people around you, and it’s great to have a few people rooting you on before each interview.

Park City ’16

One of the things I love about visiting a city multiple times is how different each visit is from the last. Whether everything’s completely new or you’re starting to get a feel for the city, things always have a way of popping up and surprising you. This was my fourth time in Park City, and I loved every second of it.

Perhaps most unsurprising this time was the weather. The one day I got up and out was Tuesday, and it was in the high 20s around 9:30. Needless to say, the snow was really fast, but I managed to find some nice corduroy to help me check my speed. By the end of the day, it warmed up to nearly 50°, perfectly softening up the moguls on the steepest terrain in Park City.

Many will say that skiing is a solitary sport, just you battling the elements, taking everything Lady Winter can hurl at you. I disagree, to a point. Skiing solo is nice, but only if you know where you’re going. I’m fortunate to have visited multiple times now and started building up my own network, namely my grandmother’s cousin and her husband. Now retired, they split their time between Florida and Park City, and I always try to connect with them whenever I’m in town. Let me just say, they shred. That beautiful day where I hit some of the steepest terrain in Park City? It was him who led me and his forty-year old son down the 9,990-foot- tall peak (called, conveniently enough, Ninety-Nine Ninety). I’m thankful to have a mountain guide who was constantly pushing me on one of the most beautiful days of the year.

What surprised me was New England, both those from there, and those who had no idea about it. I quickly realized that New Englanders find each other. We hung out with a number of guys originally from New England, but who now call Park City home. It was refreshing to talk about the NEK, or Plaistow, or Bristol, and look up at the mountains around us and see how far we’d come. One morning I started my day by riding the chair with a family from Massachusetts, and then the next chair with a woman from Narragansett, Rhode Island. We all commiserated about the lack of snow this winter, but rejoiced at finally “finding winter” as we all said.

But I really enjoyed conversing with those who knew nothing about New England. As many of you know, I’m proud of where I come from, having spent time in four of the six New England states. Perhaps most surprising, the number one question I got was “But isn’t it just really small?” “Well, maybe,” I’d respond. But it’s not as small as you might think. From where I live in Rhode Island, it is 4 ½ hours to the mountains of Vermont. Perhaps most frustratingly, people would ask, “But isn’t it just like New York City?” “Nope. Not at all,” was my response. And I’d explain how each state has its own unique culture and personality, with both its pros and cons. Since you are all probably familiar with these stereotypes, I am not going to get into that conversation here. But if you are not familiar with Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, or Connecticut, you are just going to have to visit and see for yourself! (Little plug for some hometown tourism right there).

But at the end of the day, whether the people I met were from Florida, Arizona, or the Pacific Northwest, we were all there for one reason: skiing (or snowboarding I guess). Just like with any good conversation, you gradually learn to focus on the commonalities instead of the differences. I was able to (hopefully) educate them about what New England has to offer, and also make the case for it being so very different from New York.

EuroTrip ’16 Itinerary

Trip Itinerary (Bath, Florence, Rome, 3/24-3/31)

Bath
Stayed at: Hilton ◊◊◊ – Clean, comfortable, good location
Ate At:

  • Bagels ◊◊◊ - Hard to believe we found a good bagel place in England but we did! We got them to go and ate them on a bench at the Royal Crescent on our first morning. Definitely hit the spot and was a great way to start our trip.
  • The Huntsman ◊◊◊ – Very good menu. As it’s name implies, it mostly specializes in a wide variety of meat, and has a good selection of beers from across Europe.
  • Sally Lunn’s ◊◊◊◊ – A Bath staple, Sally Lunn’s specializes in “buns,” which are more like a Portugese roll or a softer, flakier English muffin. Regardless, it is delicious, and can be ordered either as sweet (highly recommend the cinnamon!!) or savory (I had mine with ham and “piccalilli,” like a small selection of pickles). Both were delicious, and paired with a good strong pot of tea made for a great lunch.
  • Korean Tapas ◊◊◊ - The food was good, and the name says it all. If you’re looking for a good place to get Asian food, highly recommend it.
  • Heart of the Lion ◊◊◊ – Bath’s smallest pub, this was where we got fish n chips and a flight of 3 of their house beers. Highly recommend the combo, provided you can find a place to sit!
  • Wagamama at London Gatwick ◊◊◊ - Before you get all huffy about this being a chain and all that, I just felt the need to point out that a good meal in an airport can be very difficult to come by. This was one of the best airport meals I’ve had, and I didn’t feel like I had digested a healthy side of laxatives on the rocks after. That is all I’ll say there.

Drinks At:

  • Slug and Lettuce ◊◊◊ - Known for its two-for-one drink specials, this place had a very unique vibe, somewhere between being a restaurant/lounge and a club. Regardless, the drinks were good, and I’m told the food is as well.
  • The Raven ◊◊◊ – Stopped in for a pint one rainy afternoon. They’ve got a deal with a local brewer who brews special, Raven-inspired drafts specifically for them. Pies were big here but we had other plans to eat later. Either way, great place to chill and have a drink or two.
  • Pig and Fiddle ◊◊ – A classic sports bar, the tiny place was packed with people laughing, drinking, and taking in the football matches. Outdoor seating was a huge plus.
  • Saracen’s Head ◊◊ – Only stopped in here for a quick drink, but it was a big place and they had a big drink list. Apparently Mark Twain wrote something famous here (hence the name).

Visited:

  • Royal Crescent ◊◊◊ – Basically a large row of houses shaped like a crescent, today they continue to house rich and famous people, but in front of it is a large, well-groomed park. It was a great place to sit, eat, and do some people watching, but not much else.
  • 2xHop On Hop Off Tours ◊◊◊ – Surprisingly entertaining, one ticket gets you access to both the City and Skyline tours. Both were extremely informative gave us some really good background for some of the sights we had seen up to that point.
  • Roman Baths ◊◊◊ – This was a surprise favorite. We all just thought that it was going to be the pool and you just go in, see the water, and leave. Instead, the whole place winds way underground so you can actually see (and damn near walk on) the original Roman ruins! The whole tour is filled with exhibits about the evolution of the Roman village that evolved into a major bathing complex, and at the end you get to taste the water (unfortunately it was broken and we didn’t get a chance to do so, but supposedly it takes like rusty nail water). Still though, definitely an exhibit we were all surprised at being so cool.
  • Bath Abbey ◊◊ – The other major attraction in Bath, it was cool as all major cathedrals are cool, and especially since this one traces its roots back nearly 1,500 years it’s definitely work checking out. But the lack of signage or explanation about what exactly we were looking at was not very helpful.

Florence

Stayed at: Hotel Colombo ◊◊◊ – Clean, comfortable, good location. The breakfast was a great deal, and had some American staples like eggs and a coffee urn, but also croissants, Italian meats, and a coffee bar if you’re in the mood for an espresso.

Ate at:

  • Giannino San Lorenzo ◊◊◊ – We didn’t land at our hotel til about 10:30, and so this was a recommendation from our hotel front desk manager. It ended up being perfect, the food was great and the wine was an excellent way to introduce us to Italy.
  • Hot Pot Bistro ◊ – Cheap, cafeteria-style food. Free Wifi. We were tired and hungry so it was good, but not much else needs to be said.
  • Pizzeria il Teatro ◊◊◊◊ – Probably the best meal we had on the whole trip. I split a BiStecca (Florence-style steak) and it was by far one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life. Coupled with the meat platter beforehand it was an incredible experience. If you ever want to go, be careful: “teatro” means “theatre” in Italian, and the restaurant is located in the theatre district so everything is “teatro something.” We went to the “Pizzeria il Teatro.”
  • Gusta Pizza ◊◊◊ – This was the one name that kept popping up for us. They do a lot of “takeaway,” and you can tell it’s popular with the study abroad crowd, but the pizza was truly great. Menu is limited but you really can’t go wrong. Rumor has it girls get their pizza in the shape of a heart, but we went 0/2 on that.

Drinks at:

  • Lion’s Fountain ◊◊◊ – Just a really fun American bar. Each of the American colleges with a study abroad program has a t-shirt mounted on the ceiling and their students have signed the shirts over the years. Lots of classic singalongs and new American hits. Plus, Beer and a shot: 5 euro.

Visited:

  • Ponte Veccheio ◊◊◊ – A classic bridge marketplace, tiny shops have been taken over by luxury goods (Cartier, Rolex, etc). My brother put it right when he said that they can do anything they want to the inside, they just can’t alter the original architecture on the outside. Really cool views too!Uffizi X -Sad story. It was a rainy day and we decided to spend it inside at a museum. Unfortunately for us, every other tourist in the city had the same idea. We waited in line for almost two hours and moved maybe 30 feet. We probably would have waited there another four hours and still not gotten. Just means we have to back!
  • Piazza Michelangelo ◊◊◊◊ – Definitely one of the most unique experiences to Florence, you cross over the Ponte Vecchio and hike up a hill. From the top, you get some amazing, postcard-quality views of the city.
  • Duomo ◊◊◊ - okay so maybe it’s not THE most impressive cathedral in Europe, but it’s important to remember that it was the first. This was THE cathedral that kicked off the Renaissence, setting the standard for all others that came after. Keep that in mind if you want to complain about the lack of art on the walls.
  • Boboli Gardens ◊◊◊ – Definitely worth checking out, but don’t do it on the same day as the Piazzo Michelangelo. The best views here look out over the Tuscan countryside, and so it was a really cool parallel to having the views of the city vs. the views of the country. Plus it was a great place to spend a sunny afternoon!

Rome
Stayed At: Rome Metropolitan Guesthouse ◊◊◊- This is hard to judge. We had a hard time finding the place (there’s no signage), our bathroom shower didn’t drain, and we were constantly fumbling with keys and locks. The things that really saved this place was that the owner, Marco, was super helpful in telling us how to see the sights in the short amount of time we had, he was really reachable when we needed help, and we had probably the best cup of coffee during the entire trip at Bar Fondi, where the included breakfast is served. I think the place is very new and so they are still working out the kinks so I’ll give it three thumbs up, plus it was clean and Very cheap.

Ate At:

  • Petrolini Roma ◊◊ – In every major city there’s always a place located near a main attraction that looks super nice and serves lousy to mediocre food. This is one of those places. Super glitzy on the outside, meh food. True, we had one really good plate of mussels, but my plate of pasta was just okay. I had OKAY pasta in Roma, and I think that that is simply unacceptable.
  • Bar Fondi ◊◊◊ - As mentioned above, had the best cup of coffee we had all week here, and a couple of really good croissants. Not sure how much of a “bar,” it is though, since it was closed at 9:30 when we came back to the hostel, but the breakfast was great. We knew we struck gold when two Italian soldiers came in for their morning espresso. Gotta follow the locals.

Visited:

  • Colosseum ◊◊◊◊ – Four diamonds just for simply being incredible feats of engineering. We didn’t get a chance to take a tour or even go inside, but simply standing outside of it was enough to feel how incredible it was.
  • Trevi Fountains ◊◊◊◊- Similar to the Colosseum, the Fountains are an incredible testament to the history of the city and the industriousness of its people. I only knew about it from what my sister had told me so I wasn’t expecting to be wow’ed like I was.

Communities Coming Together

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that this trip would happen. I think it is human nature to make big plans, to think big about adventures to be had and sights to see with the people important to you. Most of these plans don’t come to fruition in the end.

I was fortunate that this one did. I knew my friends were serious when we booked a hotel room a week or two before we were scheduled to leave, and at that point I started thinking, “I have 48 hours to show my friends why Burlington is one of the greatest cities in New England. What are we going to do?”

The plan was simple: leave Providence after we all get out of work on Friday and drive the 4+ hours to our hotel in Colchester, see Winooski that night, hit a couple of Burlington’s key sights on Saturday, and then visit Waterbury on our way home on Sunday. (You can find the full itinerary here.)

Packing late Friday afternoon, my phone started buzzing. Words like “explosions,” “shootings,” “hostages,” started appearing in the same sentence as “Paris.” I had to take a second and scroll through Twitter. It looked like chaos was gripping the streets of one of my most beloved cities. It was as a high school sophomore on my first visit to Paris that I learned to love travel, and I had been back many times since, to sit in the cafes, visit the Eiffel Tower, wander the Louvre, and pay my respects at the Arc de Triomphe. And now it was in chaos.

My phone started buzzing again. This time, it was my friends. It was time for us to go. I had to push all thoughts of the terror gripping Paris aside for the moment, especially when I volunteered to drive. I’ve learned that when major international events, I’m often the only one who cares. I threw my stuff in the car and shifted the car into drive. I had a mission to complete.

Because you can find the itinerary above, I’m not going to dwell on what we did. It was all pretty straight forward, and followed a routine that I had found during my four years in college. While my friends all praised my work as a tour guide, this trip meant much more to me. Stepping back into the city I came of age in and seeing the people and places that had played such a huge role in my life brought me back to an earlier time, a time when priorities were limited to three things: good friends, good food, good drinks.

Throughout the entire trip, I tried to keep these three things at the forefront of everything we did. Whether it was brunch at Sneakers, munching on a a cheese platter at Citizen Cider, or meeting up with all my old St. Mike’s friends at Three Needs, this whole weekend was about bringing the disparate communities I’ve encountered together.

Needless to say, St. Mike’s (and even one of my high school friends) rose to the occasion. Whether it was trading college stories at the Mule Bar on Friday or talking about the band I helped manage in high school or even comparing professional notes with a current RD at St. Mike’s, my PC friends got to see the world that I lived in and how the bonds of community stretched well beyond the limits of the physical space of campus or the years that have gone by since graduation.

It all really hit home walking around campus on Sunday. I showed my friends the building where I was an RA, the suite that I lived in for a summer and the house that I lived in senior year. Everything was bringing me back.

On our way out, I had to stop by the Chapel. “Wow, this is so big!” one my friends said. Thinking back to the memorial services and the funerals I’ve observed there, I simply said “Yes, yes it is. And I have seen it filled to capacity on multiple occasions.” After the highs of the previous few days, closing out our adventure to Burlington blinking back tears in the Saint Michael’s College chapel seemed a fitting end way to end a tribute to my college community. I remembered not just the low points, the points where my community was tested with loss, but also how the community always pulled together and prevailed. Even after the loss of a life, the community pulls together to become even stronger.

My friends saw glimpses of that throughout the weekend, when I’d walk down the street and say hi to those that I’ve known because we all shared in common experiences, and are all still members of a community. At the end of the weekend, what they thought was just a weekend trip to Burlington was for me a reminder of my college community, and how this community continues to shape who I am today.

College Opportunities

It’s been awhile, but the simple fact is I haven’t had much to talk about. It’s hard getting myself psyched up to write about my job because it’s like most other jobs: it has its good days and its bad days. It can be funny or sad or exhausting, and no, I don’t really have any good stories. I will say this though: I’ve enjoyed it. Sure, the hours are long and I’ve had to go more than a few nights without sleep, but ever since graduating from undergrad, I knew I would end up back at a college. This position, and the ability to live and work on a college campus, has provided me with opportunities unlike anywhere else in the world. Given that this school is in “The Ocean State,” in recent weeks I’ve really tried to take advantage of one of these opportunities in particular.

I’ve always loved the ocean. It’s a passion my parents instilled in me from a young age, and I took it one step further these past few weeks. Not content to spend time on the ocean anymore, I wanted to explore what is underneath it. Unfortunately, due to Hurricane Joaquin, our plans to dive out of Jamestown, Rhode Island, forced us instead to tiny Beach Pond State Park in Exeter.

Nevertheless, it was here that I completed my open water dives, and I am proud to announce that I am now a certified open water scuba diver.

It wasn’t easy. I joined the club late and had to rearrange my schedule, giving up hours of always precious free time. I also came down with a sinus infection shortly before our certification dives and ended up pushing my body probably a little too far. Not to mention, it was also pretty expensive.

Just like learning any new skill, it takes sacrifice and practice, and forces you to overcome the fear of failure. (Failure means something completely different when you’re submerged underwater). In the end, I knew it was now or never.

Right from the first breath I took underwater, I knew it was the right call. Sitting on the bottom, I took a deep breath in and rose up a little bit. Exhaling, I sunk back down a little bit more. Laying inches off the bottom, I came face to face with a little fish, bright yellow and clearly confused about the sudden intrusion of a dozen humans into his home. I had to chuckle as it kept darting in and out and around the feet of the others still gearing up in the shallows. Later, after we had completed all our skills, we had to return to shore. Gliding through the water, admiring the discarded beer cans and solo cups was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Thanks to the PC Friar Divers for making it happen. Here’s to making sure we “Just Keep Swimming”

A Campus Grieves

I find myself in a place I had hoped to never visit again. As a member of a college community, I’m grieving the loss of one of our students, a student who’s smile brightened the halls and who taught us all so much in the brief time that we knew him.

My thoughts go back to a similar time, a similar place. A college campus, mourning the loss of one of their own, taken from them too soon. A community, standing together, reaching out, holding each other, struggling to make sense of a senseless death. Campus ministers, priests, administrators offering resources and small words, words that are meant to soften the blow of news that cannot be delivered softly.

I think back to my own grief, the period of mourning that I went through. The withdrawal into myself, the tears, the pain, the fruitless thoughts and constant wonderings of what I could have done differently, what I could have done to create a different outcome. I had a job to do, and I thought I had failed.

But as is so often the case, it was in the darkest moments of our lives that you can often find the brightest lights, if only we open our eyes to see it. I remember the help of my coworkers, how they supported me with a kind word and a tissue. I remember the strength of my boss, a strength that got us through one of the darkest periods our campus community had ever experienced.

But I most remember the love and support from the community. The embrace of the many hundreds, the hundreds who grew into thousands. The thousands of strangers who embraced each other and became friends, friends united in grief. Friends approached me with a word of support, but only a few words, knowing that no one had the right words.

It is that community, that family, that I know will come together now. It is that community that will remember the student, the boy, the son, the fighter.

One of my old campus ministers told me once that it is the remembering that is the most important part of grief. He told me that “It is in remembrance that we make our departed present, and when present, they never truly die. It is in remembering that our dead continue to live.”

And so we shall remember, and he shall live on with us. #FriarFamily #ForeverAFriar

My Brief Foray Into the Restaurant Industry

The broad theme of this site is the places I find myself, as well as the people I meet and the things I learn while I’m there. For the past four months, I’ve been working at a local Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant, taking carryout orders over the phone, assembling them, and cashing out guests, as well as delivering lunch to local businesses throughout the workweek.

Throughout this period, when I mentioned what I was doing for work, I kept getting the question of “Why?” Why would someone with a college degree want to go work there of all places? Eventually when people ask simple questions with complicated answers (“What was your favorite part of studying abroad?” is another good one) it’s eventually necessary to formulate a default answer and just go with that. So I would simply reply:

It was something different.

I had never worked in a restaurant before, and had just read Tony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. While the book is based entirely on his own, ah, unique, experiences in various kitchens, I wanted to get a first-hand view of it for myself. And so, armed with the knowledge that I needed money for my fast-approaching European trip, I visited two or three different restaurants in an afternoon. It just so happened we had ordered Bertucci’s for dinner that night, and I went in, made some small talk and realized I wanted an application. I brought it back the next day, met with the managers, and just like that, I was hired.

The first thing I noticed is that restaurant life is fast. One of my first shifts was a weeknight in the middle of April vacation. We anticipated a slow night, it being a Wednesday and all, and so didn’t have many people working. Slowly the phones starting ringing more frequently, and before I knew it  we were in the middle of what the guy training me called a “rush.”

Oh, the mythical rush. A time when the phones never stop ringing, the food never stops coming, and the sharpies start running dry from overuse. At the end of the night, with our nightly tallies in, the guy training me announced that we did the same amount of business as we would on a weekend night.

But it’s nights like these that brings home the second aspect of working in a restaurant: you are part of a system. When the system works, everyone’s happy. You take an order, type it into the POS system, the slip prints at the appropriate stations in the kitchen, the cooks make the food, the carryout workers package and label the food, the customer comes in, they pay for the food, and then you hand them their order. Everyone’s happy.

But when someone (or something) throws a wrench into the system, everything breaks down. If a printer runs out of paper, a person incorrectly types in the order, you mislabel an order, or something gets left out, you can expect an angry phonecall, an angry manager, a stern talking-to and a lecture about following the correct process. But at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to: follow the process and we’ll all be okay.

Finally, customer service. Like any other job that involves interacting with people in close quarters, you see people at their worst: angry, hangry, impatient and expectant. But you also see the people who have been in my shoes, people who appreciate having you unpack everything just to prove to you that we got your order right, people who appreciate that last little “Anything else we can do for you?” The people who put down ten or fifteen percent on top because they appreciate not having to cook, and they appreciate us getting it right.

It’s true, sometimes we see people at their worst. But then you see the regulars, the people who appreciate your hard work, the people who see you rushing around, packing their order, look you in the eyes and say a simple, “Thank you.”

My time in the restaurant industry was brief, much briefer than that of many of my coworkers. I appreciate my time there, the things I learned, the people I met. I’ve got a newfound respect for those who handle food all day, for the meticulous preparation of dishes and meals packaged correctly and served hot.

My time there was brief, but the lessons I learned will last much longer. Thanks, Bertucci’s, for letting me experience something new for the brief couple of months I was there.

Growing Up

Growing up means making sacrifices. This is something I’ve always known objectively, but this weekend brought it home.

It was a simple email, one from a nonprofit organization that I used to intern with. They like to keep their members updated on where their dollars are going, what programs are coming up, who’s visiting and from where. My jaw dropped when I read the headline:

A Conversation with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

I had to reread the email a few times before it began to sink in. Samantha Power. Current ambassador, former war correspondent, academic, and bureaucrat. She has been one of my idols since I first read her academic work. She seeped into my consciousness with her straightforward, no-holds-barred account of the world’s failure to react to the Rwandan Genocide. She provided commentary for Sergio, a film about a badass bureaucrat who’s everything I aspire to be. As Obama’s personal representative to the United Nations, she’s fought to ensure that the dignity and rights of all humans are respected, even as blood continues to be spilled in Syria, Ukraine, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and more. While the the power of the UN continues to fall far short of what the world needs, Ambassador Power has done her best to push, pull and prod her fellow ambassadors into action.

I was given the opportunity to hear her speak.

And I couldn’t attend.

It was heart-breaking to hit the Delete button on the email and put the event out of my mind. A woman I admired, speaking in a city I loved. A chance that I might never have again….. And I had to let it go.

The reason is simple: I was working both Saturday evening and Sunday night. A 6-hour round-trip car ride was impossible, especially to hear a one-hour talk. If I didn’t have to work, I would’ve made it in a heartbeat.

But at the same time, my Saturday night shift was awesome. I was given the opportunity to bus tables, something I jumped at, and it ended up being one of my most successful nights at the restaurant. It was hard work, and I did have some minor spills, but I never broke a glass, and for that I am thankful. I walked out exhausted but happy, proud that I could add another position to my repertoire, and proud that I pleased my coworkers.

Growing up means making sacrifices, but it also means setting priorities. Right now I’m looking for some stability as I enter into a period of waiting, waiting to see what my latest round of job applications will turn up. Some are promising, others are long-shots, but I know that if I don’t get a single one (something I’m hoping is not the case) I’ll have something to fall back on.

So, I missed my chance to see Samantha Power, live and in-person. But I also took advantage of other opportunities, opportunities that I’m hoping will reap will rewards in the long-term. Growing up means making sacrifices and setting priorities, and I hope that these will help me to turn the corner. We shall see.

-MC