- hello Christian Moore
- Username: ChristianMoore
- In response to: "What's the one thing you're never gonna give up?" The belief that while individual humans may be flawed, human nature remains full of hope.
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- A Perfect Afternoon at Vianden Castle, Luxembourg
While I have been to older places, Vianden Castle in Luxembourg remains one of the most memorable…
Our trip to the canton of Vianden—and Vianden Castle—in Luxembourg occurred during the summer of 2000. I was traveling through Europe on something of a club tour with a group of close friends. We had just spent two weeks in Ibiza, and we had arrived back in Amsterdam. Looking for something to do one Saturday, we rented a car on the spur of the moment and decided to drive South into Luxembourg to see some of the castles there. The drive South was beautiful as we passed through The Netherlands, drove across Belgium, and eventually wound up in Luxembourg. Northern Luxembourg is only a bit more than ten miles wide, and Vianden rests near the Eastern border with Germany.
We began the day by going first to Luxembourg City in the South, where we learned that the people of Luxembourg remain some of the most unfriendly in all of Europe. It was all we could do to get directions to an ATM machine—many of the people, although they speak German, French, and English, refuse to speak in anything but Luxembourgish (yes, they have their own language). I suppose our little excursion to the tiny country's capital proves that national and cultural pride are inversely proportional to a country's physical size:) After finally managing to get both some money and a bit of food, we followed our map East into the Moselle Valley, where we stopped briefly at several castles. Continuing North from there, toward the Ardennes Forest, we eventually ended up in Vianden in the middle of the afternoon and ended up staying there (and visiting the remarkable castle) until sundown.
The town and canton of Vianden, which rests in the valley below the castle, traces its origins back to the Gallo-Roman age, when there was a castellum on the site of the present castle. Vianden itself was originally known as Viennensis, probably derived from the Celtic vien ("rock"). The first historical reference to Vianden was in 698, and the town itself possesses one of the oldest charters in Europe, granted in 1308 by Philip II, count of Vianden, from whom the family of Nassau-Vianden sprang, and who was consequently the ancestor of William of Orange (you can see here why I had a particular affinity for the history of the place—its roundabout connection to Princeton, my alma mater, many generations later).
Vianden Castle was built between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations both of the old Roman fortress and a later Carolingian refuge. It remains one of the largest and most well-preserved feudal residences of the romanesque and gothic periods in Europe. The chapel and the small and large palaces, respectively, originate from the end of the 12th and the first half of the 13th century. The 'Quartier de Juliers' on the western side of the large palace, originated from the beginning of the 14th century. Until the beginning of the 15th century it was the seat of the influential Counts of Vianden, a line of nobles who enjoyed close connections not only to the Royal Family of France, but also to the German imperial court. In 1417, the lands of the canton passed by inheritance to the House of Nassau, and thus the castle no longer served as the official residence of the counts. People can still see the rich architecture the House of Nassau inherited, since nothing further was changed or built after that point. Over the next few centuries, a victim of neglect, the castle fell into a state of ruin. Finally, after its ownership was transferred to the state in 1977 by the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the ancient fortress was finally restored to its former glory. It has become an important historical monument, not only for Luxembourg but for all of Europe.
We happened to see the castle on a perfect summer day, and from its towers you can literally see beyond Luxembourg's borders into Germany. The modern town of Vianden, quaint and still somewhat medieval in its atmosphere (a quality unique to Europe, as anyone who has traveled there can attest), snakes through the valley below. While I still have many pictures from that day, for me the memory remains even stronger. I think that sometimes we experience certain moments in time, mentally "freezing" those that move us the most, or affect us more deeply than others, or change our underlying personal compass in some manner that we can't quite identify. This was one of those experiences for me. I'll keep it with me for the rest of my life.
- My care package would contain tuna fish. Just tuna fish…
Why my homesick friend deserves nothing more than a box full of tuna fish…
He wouldn't appreciate it, but for some reason this prompt reminded me of a prank a couple of my closest friends played on me during our junior year of college. So I'm going to pretend that the friend in question in this case, spending his six homesick months abroad, is a member of this small group of college buddies. And I'm going to tell you the story…
It was the middle of October, approaching Halloween, and I returned from class one day to find a package waiting for me. It was from my aunt in Connecticut, and I was immediately curious because I didn't often receive packages or gifts from this particular relative. It wasn't close to my birthday, so I assumed it must have something to do with Halloween. It didn't occur to me to examine the box, or maybe I would have noticed the telltale signs of a surreptitious unwrap-rewrap job, such as duct tape laying on top of actual packing tape (I noticed this later, of course). I was just excited to see what she had sent, so I dove right in.
Now, two of my friends (one of whom was my roommate) were nonchalantly hanging out in our apartment at the time, and they seemed a bit too curious about this package. Both watched intently as I opened the box. As I removed the tissue paper on top of the contents, I saw rows of Starkist tuna fish cans interspersed with boxes of Jello lining the box two levels deep, with a note resting on top of everything. I opened the note, barely noticing that my friends seemed even more intent on the scene playing out before them, as a wave of embarrassment began to sweep over me. The note was full of happy sentiments regarding Halloween and college in general; my aunt hoped I was having a good semester, that I was studying hard, you get the idea. And throughout the note, she kept referring to the "tuna and jello" she had sent. She really hoped I liked the "tuna and jello." God.
My immediate reaction was to start mentally backpedaling in front of my friends. My initial embarrassment had worsened, and instead of noticing that every time the words "tuna and jello" appeared in the note, they were written in a different ink above two other words that had been crossed out, I began a long and convoluted defense of "my crazy aunt in Connecticut." I eloquently defended my undying love for tuna and jello, assuring my friends that my aunt knew how much I liked both foods, and that in our family it was tantamount to a Halloween tradition to gift them to other family members around the holiday.
After several more embarrassing minutes of similar ridiculousness, my friends could no longer contain themselves, and they both burst into laughter. Two of my other friends emerged from one of the bedrooms. It was then that I noticed the remains of a cookie or two on the coffee table, cookies that appeared to have been not only homemade, but chocolate with little jack o'lantern faces made of orange icing. Okayyyy...... So, my friends had opened the box while I was at class, eaten ALL of the cookies, taken my aunt's note, crossed out every instance of "Halloween cookies," and written "tuna and jello" in their place. And to make matters worse, I hadn't even recognized the damned tuna and jello, which had been resting happily in our nearly empty poor-college-student kitchen that morning as I had departed for class. The moral of this story? Don't turn your back on your "friends." Nah… It was all in good fun. I suppose the real moral is to simply keep your damn eyes open. But in the context of this question? My friend would get a box full of tuna fish cans, no more and no less. 'Cause that's what he would deserve;-)
- Reading 'The Sun Also Rises' opened my eyes
The book that introduced me to "expatriate nihilism" and changed my outlook on life forever…
During college I would go through different "writer periods" where I would skip class and sit in a booth in the Burger King on Nassau Street in Princeton, NJ, reading book after book. I would normally choose a writer I liked and literally read everything I could find by him. It was September or October of my sophomore year when I discovered my first Hemingway "expatriate" novel—The Sun Also Rises (I'm sure I had to read "The Old Man and the Sea" in High School, but that book isn't part of the same canon). I couldn't put the book down, and I probably read the thing eight or ten more times over the next several years. It led me to other, similar books like "A Movable Feast" and "The Great Gatsby" (yes, I know the difference between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but in a very real sense it was Hemingway that led me to Fitzgerald, even though I was attending Fitzgerald's alma mater and his name was pretty much everywhere—in fact, a friend of mine lived in a quad in Rockefeller College with a wooden window seat upon which FSF supposedly carved his initials). It also eventually led me to contemporary writers whose stories bore modern similarities to their forbears—writers like Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney.
How did "The Sun Also Rises" open my eyes? It showed me that the trappings and characters of polite society could be simultaneously seductive and grotesque. In certain ways I related to Jake, not in the sense of his physical infirmity, but much like Nick Carraway in "The Great Gatsby," I related to his essential goodness and eventual resignation to the types of people he would continue to attract and by whom he would most likely be surrounded throughout his life. Remember: I was a public school kid at Princeton at the time. I had friends with private planes at the local airport, and I certainly knew girls like Brett Ashley. But more than that, there was an attraction to the idea of the expatriate lifestyle that, at the time, seemed difficult to resist. I had spent several months in France after my senior year in high school, and my young mind (I think) felt that it could relate to Jake's inner conflict and eventual ambivalence. because, in the end, that's what these books were about—the ambivalence of the wealthy, the shallow, or the simply disinterested just trying to fill up their days. And even after all the drinking, beaches, card games, and bull fights, you can still feel the desperate emptiness. And I think there was a time, when I was drifting a bit aimlessly through college, when I could relate to that…
It's funny, but the parallels throughout what I consider the larger "young nihilistic" canon are unmistakable. At the end of "The Sun Also Rises," as Jake is riding in the cab through Madrid to deliver her back to Mike, Brett sadly remarks that she and Jake could have had a wonderful time together. And he responds, "Yes, isn't it pretty to think so?" At the end of "Less Than Zero," Blair and Clay meet for one last time at a restaurant overlooking Sunset Boulevard, and her final words to him are, "You're a beautiful boy, Clay, but that's about it." I always loved that line…
- My trip from Galveston, TX to Harrisburg, PA
My two-day odyssey from TX to PA fueled by nothing but a Texaco credit card…
While this wasn't the longest trip by distance I've ever made (I've driven cross-country twice), it was far and away the most physically grueling and mentally taxing. A friend was starting a graduate program in Texas, and I volunteered to tow his car (packed full of all his worldly possessions) behind my battered SUV. The trip down was eventful enough (we actually jack-knifed across the center of the highway at 3 AM near Texarkana and ended up facing backwards on the grass in the center of the highway at one point--somehow we got the cars back on the road), but it was the return that really did me in.
We were both poor college students, and I essentially ran out of money while I spent two days helping him unpack (and partying in the evenings). When I realized I only had around ten dollars left to my name, I knew it was time to hit the road. I left around 5AM on a Monday morning from just outside Houston and started driving. Like I said, I had a bit less than $10 in cash, but I also had a Texaco credit card my parents had given me for school. And so my 33-hour, straight-shot odyssey began. I pretty much only stopped at Texacos—both for gas and to eat. After all, the Texaco card represented my only ability to buy food. And as far as eating goes, I survived largely on coffee, No Doz pills, and various odd bits of junk food—remember, much of the drive was through places like Alabama and Tennessee, and twenty years ago it was hit or miss as far as what types of food a gas station off the beaten path might stock.
I have a vivid memory of driving through the hills of Tennessee at around 3AM, in a fog so thick that I could manage only about 25 MPH, and realizing that even though I was more than 18 hours into the journey, I still had almost as much distance still remaining to cover. I finally gave in to exhaustion in southern Virginia, dozing in the driver's seat for around 30 minutes at a rest stop just as the sun was rising over the hills. The short nap seemed to give me the energy I needed for the final push to the end, and I remember the feeling of relief that washed over me as I exited near my parents' home in Camp Hill, 33 straight hours after setting out from Texas. At the time, it seemed like an unfair and extreme hardship. Today, looking back, it actually sounds like a nice escape from the daily grind…;-)