Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 273: Antwerp Sings

Yesterday I hitched from Brugge to Antwerp. Fortifying my belief in Belgium as a hitch hiker's paradise, I waited less than 10 minutes for all three rides combined. When I was back in Gent I found myself hitching out of the same spot I was in 4 days ago, but this time I had company. I was excited to see another hitch hiker. He said he had been there for 30 minutes. I only felt a little bad when a car picked me up in 7 minutes and he was still standing there. Though this was going to be my narcissistic beauty for the day, Antwerp trumped it.

Hippies get rides faster, good luck!

Upon arriving in Antwerp, my hosts came to meet me and after dinner, brought me to a one night event called "Antwerp Sings." An event where people get together and sing songs, whether they're Belgian classics or American pop, everyone sings together. We could hear the singing before we saw the scene. Fueled by beer tents, a plaza full of people with vocal chords ablaze.

Even though I didn't know most of the songs, being a part of a crowd full of singing people was so beautiful. I started talking with a young woman next to me and she was kind enough to explain the history behind many of the Flemish songs. I didn't even feel bad that I only knew the words to 'I Gotta Feeling' and 'Thank You for the Music'. Everyone was having a great time singing and the communal atmosphere was beautiful... and free!

What started out as a crowd of bar-goers has expanded exponentially into a a city of singers. The rapidness which this event expanded is inspiring. Getting people together to sing is a simple idea that I'm surprised doesn't happen more often. This event tours around a handful of towns in Belgium, uniting all of the townsfolk in song. Case in point -- here I was with my two CouchSurfing hosts who I had only known for a few hours and I ended up chatting with this other woman for the rest of the night, singing with a crowd of strangers -- that's a beautiful thing.

What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 271: Livin' Free

After suffering through a frustrating bout of withdrawing money, I sought to find a cafe for me to write and banish my morning hunger pangs. I was fortunate to stumble upon Le Pain Quotidien. Enveloped in their cozy French interior, my taste buds gushed as they hobnobbed with scrambled eggs, toast, and an almond croissant. You may have guessed from their name that delish bread is their specialty, but breakfast wasn't the most beautiful part of my day.

My favorite part of the day was the same reason I didn't write my blog this morning. Over the past week or two I've become increasingly curious in living without money. Yesterday I discovered Daniel Suelo's Free Life Blog, blog about a guy living in the Moab desert who doesn't use money at all. Thanks to a new sustainability blog I've began reading I also found an 'Adventurous Life Zine' which is a PDF guide that covers a handful of strategies that inform someone who is fascinated in living without money. Topics range from dumpster diving tips to composting toilets, and travel to health.

Daniel lives for free in a cave!

While reading this I couldn't help but laugh out loud. I felt ridiculous as I imagined myself doing these things and living happily. Until recently I hadn't thought too much about the free lifestyle. I knew people live in abandoned buildings and eat dumpster buffet but I always thought it was only bums or lazy people. Now I realize that this is not the case. I will let the intro of the zine speak for itself:

"This zine is not about being a cheapskate, being frugal, living in poverty, or scamming people to get stuff for free. It's about letting go of the belief that money is essential to get anywhere, and being open to the abundance of nature. It's about sharing everything you have, and allowing yourself and others to reach their full potential."

Through various experiences on my trip I've realized that none of my favorite experiences have come from money (one could argue this trip wouldn't have been possible otherwise, but this is a separate discussion). I've ranted and raved about hitch hiking and CouchSurfing, both of which are free, and laughing with friends and connecting with people is free too. Often times money is a way of buying myself out of an experience. Money is quick and easy, but never fun. I remember worrying about my budget severely when I was in Italy and cursing at Western Union on multiple occasions. When money is taken out of the picture people come together to help each other through clothes swap parties, shared meals, or community gardens. Everyone is on the same level. Cool.

Mom and dad, don't worry. I'm not going to go live in a dumpster (at least not yet), but I am pleasantly curious about this lifestyle. From my frustrating experience withdrawing money this morning to the €11.45 bill for breakfast, living without money is becoming more and more appealing. Accepting new lifestyles over toast – that's a beautiful thing.

What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 269: James' Letter

Yesterday I hitch hiked from Ghent to Brugge. I tried to get artsy with the sign and gave birth to something uniquely hideous. Thankfully I didn't have to display it long before a bearded baldie pulled over. He told me his name was James. I told him that James was a noble name.

Riffing off of my statement that I was from NYC, James said he had a friend there. He pulled out an envelope that looked like it survived a four year tour in Vietnam. Written a seductive script, I could tell it was a feminine hand that pressed this ink to the page. The words reminisced of an old friendship and extended an open invitation for James' return to the city. "I've been carrying that around for the past five years," he said. It was clear that he thought of its battered appearance as a badge – every crease a memory of their bond.

My fingers witnessed the paper's texture and my eyes read the words but I couldn't absorb the beauty of the openness I was a part of at that moment. Sitting in a car with a stranger who, despite my orange pants and hideous sign, picked me up and was freely sharing this piece of his heart, made me realize how the length of time that people have known each other isn't as important as how much they can open themselves and share.

James brought me all the way to the doorstep of my CS host's house. He waited when I rung the doorbell to see if I would get inside safely. When my host opened the door we exchanged our goodbyes and I couldn't help but wonder if he realized how much he inspired me. My beliefs were confirmed – James is a noble name.

Stay open, James.

One day Aras asked me, "Tell me about the most beautiful thing that happened to you today." Since I replied to him I have been asking the question to others and it always sprouts a beautiful conversation. A few days ago I was struck with the idea to create a blog around this concept. I will share some moments of brightness here.

Now I ask you: What was the most beautiful thing that happened to you today?

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