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“Mildly” Annoyed

Well, it starts off ridiculous enough. Coffee. I’m not sure if I’m just a snob now, or if there is an actual, taste-able difference between good and bad coffee. But in my opinion, there is, and I’ve gotten to a place where Dunkin Donuts just is not. Cutting. It. So I picked a spot, different than the one I picked yesterday and only slightly out of the way. I’ll go ahead and add a disclaimer at this point: I DO NOT shop at Wal-Mart except in extraordinary circumstances. For example, I’m not sure how and where to shop local in Augusta GA for radio controlled helicopters. Thus, Wal-Mart becomes an inevitable visit because why on earth would I forgo buying an RC helicopter? I would not.

And so as I pulled into the coffee shop ready to get caffeinated to steel myself for the visit to the Walton family’s pride and joy, I was “mildly” frustrated to read the sign: Closed until June 6th. I resolved to find another coffee shop but upon inspection no option existed that did not add at least 10 minutes to the trip save Starbucks, which I can live with, so I GPS’d and off I went.

Walking into the Starbucks for the second time having got out to my car and realized that “half a pump” of syrup was far too much for me, I felt my annoyance step just a touch higher. *

Alright anyway, I arrive at Wal-Mart and go in to the returns line. Yes, I was returning an RC helicopter for the second time in as many days.

The line is long and slow moving. I get to the front after well over half of my iced coffee is gone only to realize upon explanation that I have forgotten the correct receipt and instead brought a receipt for some wine I picked up the other day. Back to the car.

Suffice to say I’m displeased with myself and my overall performance this morning. I fancy myself a good traveler and capable enough to manage simple tasks efficiently. I carry on.

On a whim and a thirst, I stop into my favorite wine shop in town to chat with Joe and consider a 2006 De Pont Cellars pinot noir from Oregon that I’m shocked and skeptical to find in such a random location and at a rather favorable price. More research needed.

Joe and I are speaking about all things alcohol. He’s helping me pick out some beers, criticizing me for enjoying a Riesling with that “petrol” aroma and generally discussing preferences and tastes. He’s just arrived at work. I pay for my things and as I’m walking out he says “Well then, you going to see Willie at the Banjo-B-Que tonight?” I’m stopped dead in my tracks. Thinking. Pausing. Chills hitting my arms as I spin… “What? Did you say?”

“Willie Nelson. Playing tonight. Should be a good one.”

Yeah Joe. If that’s not the understatement of the year, or at the very least of the quarter, I don’t know what is.

I stare for a second and then blurt “WILLIE FUCKING NELSON IS PLAYING???? HERE??? IN AUGUSTA?!?!?!?”

He pulls out a newspaper, laughs and points to a picture “Sure is” and smiles.

In hindsight had the coffee shop not been closed, had the one-pump not been too much and had I not pep-talked myself to go back in and get it fixed, had the line at Wal-Mart not been so long and had I not on a whim of frustrating stopped in to chat with Joe about one of my favorite subjects, I would have come and gone before Joe got to work. Now who knows if I would have discovered this information elsewhere or how, but it does make me pause and think of feeling annoyed at a handful of little things that had they not occurred, may have prevented me from ever standing in Augusta-fucking-Georgia to dance and sing along with god. Damn. Willie. Fucking. Nelson. **

I’ll be damned if this ain’t a beautiful life.

* My god. That sentence is perhaps the essence of the suffering of first world problems. Disgusting. But true and so it shall remain.

** Turns out that Old Crow Medicine Show is playing the next night. WTF???!? Amazing. Simply amazing.

Podcast > Blog > Facebook loop.

You may have seen my facebook post linking to the blog linking to the podcast linking to my facebook page linking to the blog linking to the podcast linking to the ……….. stop it.

Anyway! These cool dudes interviewed me about my bicycle tour and put it on their podcast!

It’s called The Sprocket! Check em out and give it a listen 🙂

http://www.thepodcasthost.com/thesprocketpodcast/2014/12/16/e215-ed-hanna-the-leaving-is-the-hardest-part/

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Murder most foul.

Do you know what a flock of crows is called? It’s called a murder. A murder of crows. Do you know what a herd of unicorns is called? A blessing. A blessing of unicorns. I’m not making this up. It’s absolutely true. Ask the internet. There are tons of names for herds and flocks and schools of this and that. But anyway, back to the crows.

So there were so many times on my tour where I would come across these moments that everything came together perfectly and there was just no possible way a picture or a painting or even a story could capture it. I was riding my bicycle from this Sherwood-Forest-Looking farmer’s market in Hungary back to my host’s house. A huge storm had swept through the farmers’s market and I ended up huddling under a log hut where a Hungarian man and his daughter were selling wine. Delicious wine. No, in fact, exsquisite wine. And I usually don’t do white wine, but this… this was incredible. The storm was huge and hit hard and then passed and then the sun came out. So I pedaled through the Hungarian countryside on the north side of Lake Balaton through vineyards and cinder cone mountains, lush and green. The sun was out and there was a hint of a breeze with so many amazing smells in the air.

I rode by a vineyard and I saw a crow. I wasn’t going fast at all. I was full from sampling homeade wares and tickled drunk by many friendly samples of wine. I had my own bottle in my bag now too. I saw another crow, perched on the wooden post in the middle of a row of grape vines. This being the beginning of summer, the vines were really starting to get full and beautiful. I saw another crow, sitting on another post. I slowed down and really looked. Now I could see that there were six or seven crows sitting on posts, but not really near each other. A few crows flew around a bit farther away. Another landed nearer to me than to his comrades. They weren’t really near each other, just sort of hanging out and cawing. I laughed hard at my own joke and smiled big. “Attempted murder,” I thought…… “jerks.”

I pedaled onward.

Some follow up…

I’m back in the US of A now, good old Portland, Oregon and it’s been a minute since I updated my blog. I have a few unfinished entries that I want to share so I’ll do that… well, as I will.

I started working again. Getting back into this American life has been challenging and fun and difficult and wonderful. It’s great to be back in a place where people know my face and my name and my history. But there are days….. there are days where I yearn in ways I never have…. to be back on the road, free, riding, seeing, experiencing and living in a way I’d never done before my trip.

In following entries I’ll unload a brain dump of the lessons big and small I discovered and rediscovered on my trip. I’ll also recap some stories that I had half written and never posted.

I remember little snippets when I least expect it. They are like little gifts from my memory banks. I don’t know always know what triggers them, but each time I am grateful to remember.

I also have a super double secret classified yet somehow public blog that I just started. Some folks said they liked my writing. Turns out I really enjoyed it as well and I loved the comments and feedback. Hell, I loved clicking on the “stats” link of WordPress and seeing how many people hit the page on a given day. So anyway, while I figure out what blog site is going to host my next one, I’m posting on a yet-to-be-mentioned one now to see how I like it. If you find it… well…. good for you 🙂

And in the meantime I’ll post on this one… until I don’t! If anyone still reads it: thanks. For everything. Reading it, hosting me, knowing me, helping me, loving me and treating me to such a magical life experience. I hope I can pay it all forward as I carry on. Andiamo 🙂

Al Italia

Ah Itialia.

I returned to you older, wiser, more alone, more loved, more hurt and more healed than I was before.

You are my first. My first European adventure all those years ago. The first place I thought of to come back to years later. My first solo adventure. My first bicycle tour. My first Couchsurf. My first taste of real wine. My first taste of other worldly food. My first time being touched in the heart outside the country I call home.

You took me in when I arrived. With open arms you showed me a people that could love and provide and help because that’s what people want to do. Because that makes us all feel good. Because that’s the way it should be.

As I pedal my last kilometer inside your borders, 1600 wonderful kilometers in total, I reflect on what the past month has been and what it has meant to me.

I think of the people that have touched me and my eyes get washed away in chain reactions.

You saw me alone. You showed me your family and your home. You were the first to show me what it means to be Italian. I am grateful. I will only drink Lavazza.

You let me into your eccentric life to see what ideas of this fond world we could exchange. You made me feel at home and helped me to move into my adventure.

You shared your music and your smile and your home with me. And when I felt alone and disconnected you gave me a home to come back to. A place to look forward to. A place to let my heart and soul rest and feel at peace. When I was so far from home, I felt home. What a gift indeed.

You let me meet your dog and took me on a nighttime bicycle ride of your town. SOLO CA! SOLO CA! SOLO CALORIEEEEEE! I won’t forget that. Or the oranges for breakfast. My new favorite.

You took me to try the traditional food of your people. You introduced me to the cyclists in your area. You and they seemed to connect with my journey. I hope to hear that you all hit the road. Please. Hit the road my friends.

You showed me the traditions of your people. In your apartment with your family we played and sang and in the countryside we saw the traditions of the area. I will never forget it.

You both helped me even though you didn’t have to. You allowed me to be weak and to be vulnerable and to trust you. You let me tell you about the hard times and you told me about yours. You let me in. You trusted me too.

You showed me your life, your friends, your family. You showed me how they rage al Italia style. Wow. You gave me a place to focus on the music I love so much. A quiet respite devoid of any outside contact. Something I need to embrace more I’m sure.

As I prepare to depart I am grateful. I am sad and I am happy too. I have learned a lot about letting go on this journey. I have found my confidence as a traveler and I have found my way to be humble but present. Strong but inviting. Happy and encouraged.

Italia my love, you helped me feel comfortable as a stranger in a strange land. You helped me learn. You helped me remember to believe in the goodness of people. You showed me beauty that no picture can capture, that no line can express, that no sentence can replicate.

What is this life but a means to connect with each other. I will move foreword and remember that I want to connect. I want to invite and I want to help. I want to let others in and I want to share my traditions and my way of living. I want to make others feel welcome. I want to love people and be loved by people. We all have so much to give. I want to make sure that I am always giving, and feeling honored to do so.

And so with a grateful, heavy yet bursting heart,
With gratitude,
Grazie Mille, Italia
You are my first and I will always love you,

Yours truly,
Eduardo, Eddie, Ed, Edward

Andiamo. Andiamo indeed.

Tradition

We’re driving. This is the first car I’ve been in for about a month. We twist and turn. City lights fade.

Loredana said she was leaving and I could go if I wanted, so I went. Her friend picks us up and off we go.

It’s dark. The road lines here are different. It’s less of a concern whether they are dotted, solid, straight and perfect and fresh. Sometimes there aren’t any lines. They seem to favor roundabouts instead of stops. We always move. No stops. Turn after turn. I have no idea where we are.

The lights up ahead soon reveal their purpose. We pull into a petrol station.

She says we are early. No one is here yet. The gas stations often have bars inside. Bars. As in: they serve alcohol – amongst other things of course. Food, caffe…. No that’s the end of the list. In we go.

The bartender greets them both and I get an introduction, of course explaining briefly my story and my lack of Italian language skills. I recite my sentence explaining that I am learning and would like some vino.

A few people enter. They carry in their arms what I soon learn are the traditional instruments called Tamburello used to play the traditional music, Tarantula. As I settle in I see there is a back room. I make my way there and notice it’s a round room, open in the middle, chairs and tables lining the walls. No decorations other than plants. It has pleasant enough lighting from a rather tall ceiling that further promotes the circular nature and feel of the room.

More people are beginning to show up now. Guitars, accordions, a button box, a violin. Young, old, younger, older, the people span generations. They know each other or they know each other’s each other. They embrace, they talk, the energy starts to build. They are wearing traditional clothing, and current clothing, old leather boots and nike shoes and maybe even a pair of sketchers. They have wool shawls and varsity jackets. They wear tight jeans and polo sweaters. They wear work pants and denim shirts. Some women wear the traditional colors and some do not.

I speak with a man, perhaps close to my age that speaks English a bit better than I speak Italian. This ratio seems to work well enough I’ve found. He shows me how to use the Tamburello. With a twist in his wrist and a particular slant to the instrument he is able to strike it three times in rapid succession which ends in perfectly positioning his hands to repeat the movement again and again. As he speeds up it becomes a mesmerizing trancelike repetition that starts to pull the energy of the room into its grasp. It doesn’t start all at once. It doesn’t start with an announcement. It doesn’t stop conversation and it doesn’t command the room. It’s presented…… the room begins to wrap itself into the rhythm. Through my curiosity and distraction I don’t notice when more and more start to join until the singing starts.

I see something I’ve never witnessed in my home, the United States. Later I will uncover the meaning of some of the songs. As everyone begins to circle up, the instrumentalists percuss in time and the button box chimes in. The violin and guitar are going strong. The guitar keeps a simple yet rhythmic sound. The violin plays along giving a lead melody. An opening verse. It’s almost like an announcement. It evokes an approving response from the crowd. I don’t know when it happens. Someone else is now singing. Similar. But different. Each verse gets a reaction. Sometimes the Tamburello strike every beat for four beats, sometimes for eight. The energy builds. Another person steps in to sing their verse, it evokes a reaction, the energy builds. Those without instruments dance traditional dances. I’m swept into the mix by a beautiful woman who is happy to allow me to misstep more than I could possibly imagine all the while grinning like I’ve just been asked to the prom.

I see old dance with young. Married dance with single. Man and woman dancing all together smiling, learning the steps, following the rhythm. This is tradition. This is community.

Later I will learn that these people come from the surrounding communities of Gallipoli, where I am staying. They don’t necessarily know each other. Each person that steps into the music to sing, recites the song of their particular, unique community and offers it to the larger community as a whole. Each small community has it’s own verse. They all come together to form the song. No one verse is the song. It’s not a song until they all unite. Beautiful. The sound of ten or fifteen Tamburellos drone and echo onwards through the energy. I am amazed by the synchronization they display with such little apparent effort. Breathtaking.

Two men, with little effort, have caused the crowd to circle up around them. Their hands hold swords of air. They posture and present their weapons and begin what I will learn to be the “Danca Delle Spade” or the Dance Of Swords. They move and circle and strike and parry and spring forward and deflect and meet each other in the eyes and finally, one man bows out. Rousing the crowd another man challenges and they agree to the match. The dance begins anew. In the days of yore real swords were used and the dance continued until death. They were fighting for the honor of a woman. Love perhaps.

It’s Tuesday. We leave at one in the morning. These people have jobs and lives that require their attention in the morning. They build their community nonetheless. By the end I have met many many people. We are all excited to be there. We all see what it means to us and what it means to the group. It’s important. It’s worth preserving. It’s special. I am AWESTRUCK 🙂

Try less. Harder.

Slow down.

Today I decided to stop using the map and just go. Coast, no coast. Direction becomes much easier in that setting. So I picked a road and stayed the course. It felt empowering. I felt adventurous. Funny how being on an adventure like the one I’m on leaves me feeling compelled to add some adventure to it. There’s wisdom to be pruned from that statement but I can’t see it yet.

I was going south longer than I should have been. Getting deeper into farm. Fields of wildflowers called out with the sounds of spring. Bees buzzing, a breeze over rolling hills of green, red, yellow, purple; smells to invigorate the soul. Hardly a structure of any kind in sight save the ancient stone walls only a couple feet high separating someone’s from someone else’s. The bees didn’t care or even seem to notice the distinctions.

I saw a dirt road to the left, to the sea. It went over a hill. I couldn’t see past. I circled back. This is my path. It started out well enough but quickly turned to less and less of a road. Up ahead the large tractor that I passed while we were on the road went by me. I heard it say “this is MY path.” Maybe it’s both, I thought. I pressed on. Ahead where the tractor had already gone I saw a place where the road ended. And then I saw where it started again. In between the lands end and beginning sat a pool of water just large enough to cover, entirely, any chance of bypassing it without at least stopping in to say hello.

Well, this is the path I chose. Heave-ho, bicycle goes up on the shoulder. With a pannier on the side, this act is suddenly tremendously harder than I remember it with an empty bicycle. Ahead, at the barn, the farmer leaves his tractor inside, pulls the door closed, turns toward his vehicle and spots me, which stops him cold. Pretending to do something and something else he waits and watches. I imagine a conversation between he and his tractor begins:

“Ooooooooh man, you have GOT to see this one!!!!!”
“What?! WHAT?!?! Open the door!!!!!”
“Ok ok ok check THAT out!!!!”
“BAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA I TOLD HIM IT WAS MY PATH!!!!”
“Ten bucks says he’s some Americano tourist, and double that if he can’t speak Italian”
“HA! You’re on, I say he’s British, no bet on the language though, clearly he doesn’t speak Italian.”

I make it past the water without having a dip. I set my bike down and get on. As I roll up to him we see each other’s face. I say “Ciao, dové Otranto? Qua?” And point towards Otranto. “Si.” He looks unimpressed. I laugh and pedal on. I imagine the tractor is fuming. This is my path.

After more pedaling on grass and two tracks, another pool of mud to circumvent and an unexplainable fenced off area containing no less than 50 dogs all living community style (they looked well taken care of, don’t worry) I finally reach pavement. I play Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam and thumbs up the car that honks at me as I cruise out onto the road. I spot the sea. I know that somewhere between us there lies a lake of bauxite. I believe I’m close. Don’t spoil the momentum I think to myself. Leave the map where it lies.

I see cars parked around red dirt. I am close. A little here and there and back and forth and I’m standing in front of the sign explaining the Laghetto di Bauxite. I sit atop the lake and have lunch.

I spot some people hiking in from a different direction. I was supposed to visit Otranto today. I’ll see where they came from instead. I follow the road on my bike until I crest a hill. It gets way too rough for my bike. Or rather, there’s no need to smash a rim, pop a tire or anything else just because I COULD ride it. But beyond the rough part I see a dirt two track that looks inviting and it looks like it goes all the way to the sea. It’s undeveloped here and it’s just the land and the sea for as far as my eyes will stretch. It’s green rolling downwards. The dirt is red and contrasts against the blue sky and green grass and shimmering turquoise water and I think that I hear a voice calling me. This is MY path.

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Dog

Death. Nothing quite as instantly, reliably saddening as death. Or a dead something or someone. Even dead cities are sad. I was particularly struck by the site of the dog lying on the side of the road. Dead. I thought “who would hit a dog and just leave it here?!”

I thought about what I could do. Nothing really. I thought about the dogs I’ve known in my life and how difficult this would be for the people that loved this dog.

About three feet from the body I slowed down and thought I would at least pay my respects for whatever that was worth. “I’m sorry for you.. poor doggy.” When the head snapped up and our eyes locked, I nearly fell off my bike. In shock, slow motion, body flips up, hind legs cock back, front legs spring forward, mouth open, teeth white wide hungry, growl turns to bark turns to grrrrrrrooooowwwwwllll, back legs spring lurching forward with all the hunger and anger of tornado thats “just gettin’ warmed up.”

I downshifted. This could be a long day. Andiamo.

Caserma Rossani

In Bari sits an 83,000 square meter abandoned military facility. The locals are working with and at times against the city to turn the space into a public area featuring artists of all kinds and community based uses of all variety. It was incredible to be In a city the size of Bari and step through a door contained by flaking, run down walls and find a community pulsing with the desire of the people. The desire to sing, dance, play music and ping pong, gather, commune around a fire, display art and build a community. The space cries out for tender loving care and the people seem ready to answer the call if only the governmental red tape would release its grasp.

Children play around the community tables outsides. Two recycled art centaurs guard the entries. A room of people on couches listen to a man play guitar. The only electricity comes from a generator that is and is not running depending on apparently nothing. A young man in spiked leather and a magnificent multicolored Mohawk seven inches tall is a poet and a writer I’m told. Old men and families come and go. Kids slip through the created fissure in the fence and escape into the depths of the complex. I speak to a man who is organizing their fourth community meeting in hopes of working with the local government to solidify the status of this place as public. I can tell it has been a challenge. He shows me upstairs. A library. School desks. Young people engaging with each other. Open rooms as far down the hall as the light allows sight. Seemingly infinite potential.

I slip through the fissure and into the complex. I am always looking for the one artifact that will remind me of this place and be my totem for inspiration. The one thing that somehow someone has overlooked. I see after a while that so many feet have moved so many eyes over this space that uncovering the hidden treasure might not be a search for an object at all.

I sing and play my favorite songs in a large empty room with green moss slowly coercing nature to reemerge with the construction. A beautiful sight and acoustics that make me feel like I’m playing somewhere special. I find a place to sit and practice. Where am I? A city I suppose. But it feels more like a community… or at the very least, the sprouting spring of a community. I would one day like to see what becomes of this place.

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