My 33rd and The Travel Companion Fallacy

To be happy in life, one component is having goals that excite you, goals that make you giddy for the future and what feelings those experiences or possessions might bring.

Usually, regardless if your dream list is filled with possessions or experiences, I guarantee that somewhere penciled in is a travel itinerary.   Countries and Cities that you’ve seen photos of on Facebook, read in books, or watched- speechless – as they acted as backdrop to your favourite films.  Singles, couples, parents, and retirees, all wanting to check off from their bucket lists the places they’ve dreamed of all their lives.

But unfortunately, many never make it to their desired destination, this is mainly due to the pesky little bother that seems to get in the way of most things we want in life… other people. Not to say that this is good or bad, but with most things in life sometimes loftier, personal goals get sacrificed along the path of necessity and practicality.

And I say this because of something interesting I noticed during my birthday this year, the story goes as follows (as always, please allow me some exposition):

On the afternoon of July 24th, 2012, the day before my 33rd birthday I was sitting at “home” in Basel, Switzerland when I realized that the next day would be like any other.  I would go for a swim and a run by the Rhine River, visit my favourite café to do some work, and perhaps take a leisurely walk in the evening to meet some new people.  Certainly an above average day according to most, but come on, this was my 33rd  which has always been a lucky/special number for me so I’d be damned if the next day would be business as usual.

At 3pm I headed to the train station with one destination in mind, and though it took me a few hours to fake deliberate my options, by 6pm I had my tickets in hand and my accommodations booked.

Tomorrow I would be doing 33 in style… La Belle Paris.

Pardon my French, but I fuckin’ LOVE Paris.  Admittedly, I don’t consider myself overly cultured but I do appreciate beauty, at times to my demise and Paris has this in spades. There is just something about Paris that takes hold of me while I’m there.  Oddly enough, it’s not a city I would ever choose to live in, but when I visit I’m a happy happy man.

I have been to Paris twice before, firstly on a 30 hour backpacking whirlwind with a good friend and a few years later with a girlfriend on a weekend getaway while living in London, England.   Both trips were a lot of fun in their own right, especially the hotel my girlfriend and I found with the sound -proofed rooms.  Oh-La-La!  However, this past trip to Paris was the biggest surprise of them all, as it turned out to be my most enjoyable trip as well as #2 on the all-time best birthday list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some kick-ass birthdays shared with amazing friends and family, but in your 20s most birthdays are celebrated in the midst of an alcohol induced fog that lets up days later and you’re just left wondering who was actually in attendance.

But this year, there was just something impactful, magical, and lasting, about July 25th, 2012.

I let the day guide me as it pleased, first to an Organic foods restaurant for lunch where the waitress  totally changed my itinerary; she convinced me with her Moroccan cuteness that since I’d already been twice to the Louvre, I should skip it entirely and head straight to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

My only reason to visit the land of the dead was to pay my respects to Oscar Wilde, my favourite playwright, author, and dead persecuted gay poet.  To him, I can attribute one of the most meaningful quotes in my life, “Be Yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”  The simplicity and subtlety of the text juxtaposed with the profound and far reaching wisdom always leaves me in reverence.  The quote itself is nearly comical but to hold the implication up against your own life can be a very sobering shot of consciousness.

In the cemetery I was lucky to meet up with two Canadian girls and we became a scavenger team following Indiana Cecchin’s tombstone treasure map around the cemetery grounds.  Notably, we found Edith Plaif, Proust, Voltaire, Jim Morrison, and – due to my insisting and a 25min search through what can only be described at the Jewish Ghetto – Modigliani.

After that I walked through the Louvre courtyard and through the gardens/park that lead to it, all the way up the Champs élysées where I ducked into a Starbucks to check some birthday messages.  Within my happy messages inbox was an email from a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a few years due to a falling out… it was unexpected surprise and it made me happy.

So now with some more good vibes and a macadamian nut cookie coursing through my veins, though my legs said, “No more” my heart begged to not have to wait any longer. The heart wants what it wants.

When I exited the Trocodero metro stop, the sky was the colour of blue I’ve only see in other people’s photos, and as I rounded the corner, a little giddier than a man should be… there she was, naked, confident, and beautiful.  The Eiffel Tower.

Somewhere there must be a photo of how ridiculous I looked taking this photo with my cargo shorts turned into cargo speedos.

Before descending to the fountains, I just stood there in awe, loving my life and everyone around me. I was in such an amazing mood, I spent a good 5-10 minutes just offering to take photos for couples who were struggling to do the job themselves. It made me feel even better.

But here comes the absolute best part of the day… THE FOUNTAINS!  Holy hot blazes of hell this was incredible.

People were gathered all around and INSIDE the fountain, playing in the water in their bathing suits, underwear and rolled up pants. You could just tell they were smiling in gratitude for the chance to experience such a wonderful day.  Some people might have a problem with the French, but I found it so kind of all of these people to join me on my birthday.

And yes, I am aware that ‘these waters’  as mentioned in the video above is not an acceptable
turn of phrase  when describing a fountain. haha

I cannot remember ever being around such a large group of people that seemed so happy at the same time.  I mean truly happy.  Not like when someone’s favourite team wins something, or when you buy a really nice dress or suit, not vapid things like that, but just honestly and purely filled with joy.  As cheesy as it sounds, the entire experience really made my heart sing. I continued to lie on the grass using my shoe as a pillow just silently giving thanks for such a wonderful day, and I didn’t stop smiling until the train back to Basel (I still had two days left in Paris after my birthday).

Now, with all that being said, I was surprised when a few people sounded sad for me when they heard I went to   Paris “alone”, which is typically the pessimist term given to doing anything independently.

I think too many people are really afraid to spend time in solitude, hearing their own voice.  It eats them alive. With the connectivity of the web today we are in overload of empty validation from meaningless sources: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Smartphones, IM, and Instagram accounts.  We come to value the voices of others over our own, that any type of connection is a good connection, and that we don’t feel complete without someone constantly acknowledging that we exist.

This becomes normal, and the thought of taking a vacation “alone” becomes almost anxiety inducing for most people.   The common rhetoric are things like, “Its better to share those memories with someone.” and my favourite, “I’d get really bored on my own.”

Sharing memories is a wonderful thing, but typically, this is impossible. We all view the world differently, want different things and have vastly different priorities in what an ideal vacation means.  For example, I love art and the outdoors.  While in a big European city, I want to visit museums, outdoor parks, cool exhibits, and learn all I can about the culture.  To some people this is nightmarish as they might want to shop, lay on the beach (should there be one), and lightly pass by a view attractions before going clubbing at night till 6am.  If I were to vacation with someone like that, many compromises would be made and each person’s trip would be sacrificed in the process.   To find a perfect travel companion is like winning the lottery.

Coincidentally, here is a photo I recently found on, sorry that it’s an iphone photo.  🙁


Not everyone’s opinion, but I do wonder how often this happens.

My only point here, is that I think everyone should take a vacation on their own.  Learn to make decisions without a town meeting and instead trust your own motives and convictions to lead a meaningful journey with only your own voice to guide you.

Sometimes you may not like the conversations that arise in your mind, nor the questions you suddenly realize have gone unanswered too long, but to gain a sense of freedom and self-reliance is a feeling I certainly endorse.

And though my 3-day trip was certainly one that continues to put a smile on my face, I think I will save my next trip to Paris for someone that equally makes my heart sing.

Here’s to hoping she likes museums too.  🙂

True Story: I was nearly clipped by two taxi cabs trying to take this photo. Totally worth it.

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Absence of Honesty, Absence of Growth?

In a social world, each of us are quite familiar with the balancing act that is The Social Contract.

This contract is what we universally sign up for when we become friend, lover, sibling, or spouse, to name just a few of our more important relationships.

Our more general social contract is essentially the golden rule, ‘Do onto others as you would have them do onto you”, (let’s disregard the fallacies within this phrase for the purpose of this post) and this is fine if we limit it to door holding, old lady streets crossings, and birthday wishes etc.    But I think we reach  a point of diminishing returns where kindness can lead to enabling self-sabotaging rationalizations or learned helplessness in situations where a good hard kick of the truth would go a long way towards self-improvement and emotional growth.

But the truth can hurt… a lot.   There’s no denying this.  The truth forces us to face aspects of our personality and lives that we would ideally rather ignore, and most do.  Humans are essentially a species that have evolved to take the path of least resistance, and to blindly follow pleasure and avoid pain.

The older we get the more truth we try to run from (pain), the more regrets we pile up in our minds (pain), and the more we start reducing our risk tolerance to avoid all of consequences that might occur (pain, pain, pain).   But within the vulnerability of risk, lies the greatest sources for personal pleasure; achievement, experience and love.

Yet what do many of us do… find a group of people that agree with all of our opinions, are scared to tell us when they disagree, and never ever push towards the reality of who we have the potential to be.

Fuck. This.  

I think we all need to be a little more honest in our relationships, to shine a light on the lives of those we care about when someone is playing it too safe and letting their potential turn to dust, or just being a douche. Because maybe your opinion is spot on,  maybe its dead wrong, but these conversations need to be had.

Instead, we sacrifice the awkwardness of these  critical moments in life to avoid risking friendships and engaging in difficult conversations; because its easy to gossip of the follies of others, but to actually make a difference in someone’s life, maybe that’s too much responsibility for us.

I know I personally do this all the time, so I’m certainly not immune to this mistake.   You just get to a point where sometimes trying to shine this light of truth becomes more like a flame thrower on a hay stack, and then you just become the dickhead who keeps telling people what the “need to do with their lives”, and even I hate these people.  Its a tightrope for sure.

Yet the fact does remain, without facing the truth, no matter how radically painful it might be at times, true personal growth is impossible.   Without being forced to face our demons, we’ll all “happily” run away from it for the rest of our lives, pretending everything is fine.   But fast forward 40 years and I’m sure the house that bullshit built will come a tumbling town.

If we surround ourselves with yes men and mindless cheerleaders tooting our horn for us at the exact moment we need to  pull the car off the road, nobody grows, and instea everyone quietly moves along together up the escalator to no where.

Are You Creating Your Destiny or Just Moving Along?


Now with all that being said, an important question presents itself:

How do we all make an effort to have more honest relationships without sabotaging those connections?

For example, since its probably the most common example of misguided kindness, lets take weight gain. At a certain point, we all need to be told if  we are letting ourselves go and need to lose some weight.  This simple and quick conversation from someone you love or respect is a necessary reminder that just because you are pretend that your additional 35 pounds isn’t noticeable… it really is.

That’s not to say that this fact should be brought up with every meal or social occasion, but in my opinion, I will take 3 friends that will be honest with me and have a vested interest in my true happiness than 100 friends that tell me what they think I want to hear.

If we are all honest with each other for a moment here, nobody on the planet actually has a friend who is happier when they are overweight. Sooooo why do we protect them from the truth?   It’s clearly not for their benefit, we know they’re miserable about their body image, but we refuse to help them out because we don’t want to be the bad guy. We don’t want to risk that friendship.

Again, we are self-serving creatures who are avoiding pain (possible confrontation) at the cost of someone else’s happiness. If you don’t believe me, google the global obesity numbers… they speak for themselves. And no, it has nothing to do with McDonald’s

Sam Harris wrote an interesting essay called “Lying”, and in it he says when we shy away from telling our friends and family the truth, we disrespect them by taking the ability to make better decisions out of their hands. We hide our real feelings by masking them with platitudes or silence in public and yet discussing the truth when they cannot hear it.

Everyone loves to be told positive things about themselves, and we could all use a healthy level of this but the truth cannot be escaped, and this is a point I think everyone forgets or just refuses to admit.

As I mentioned, this is something that I struggle with as well, because there are very few people that you can be honest with, because  people don’t want to grow, they want to escape and exist without hassle.  They just want to avoid the mirror until they reach the top of the escalator.

In the end, the only person we can truly be honest with is ourselves; which is always the hardest part.  So we can start there for now, but remember to be kind to yourself.

Just as we all make mistakes, we all have the right to make tomorrow better.

Good luck. 🙂




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My Latvian Evening

Regardless of race, gender, nationality, occupation, or social status… I have always LOVED meeting new people.  For a variety of reasons, the last couple years I had fallen away from this open mentality and been digressing into a state of exclusivity and myopia;  two things I’ve always been fundamentally against.
Thankfully, 2012 is slowly transforming me back into the man I thought I had lost, and restoring a lust for life I nearly let slip away. Go figure, it took an evening out with a new friend to make me fully appreciate this.

A couple weeks ago I met a charming girl, originally from Latvia but now a Swiss resident, who was kind enough to give me a ride home from an ex-pat social meet-up we had both attended.   We got along fairly well, and reconnected again a week later for a few drinks and a midnight walk around the city. We discussed a myriad of topics from traveling, films, literature, and the dichotomy of European and American culture.

For those of you that don’t know me, substitute in any storied European city, and this is essentially my perfect evening.

I made these plans almost out of hand, as a “fun way to spend some time”, not realizing until already on my way to meet her that I was essentially going on a date.  Cue sweaty palms… it’s been a while.

We started off, to our mistake, meeting in a bar smack in the middle of the Basel Tattoo Festival. Beer tents, food vendors, and an evening drizzle greeted me as I stepped off the #8 tram.  Not exactly the atmosphere we had been hoping for, but this place did have two comfortable stools at the bar, and some very inviting bottles of Aperol and Prosecco.

Zwei Aperol Spritz Bitte.

This’ll do just fine.

The evening began pleasantly, exchanging personal histories, interesting anecdotes and a few sly jokes. As we finished our second round, we decided it was time to take a stroll and relocate; and with only three weeks of Swiss Living under my belt, but a lifetime of resourcefulness… I suggested the perfect place.

Walking along the Rhine River to our destination we began to discuss the merits of American vs. European culture. Though she had lived in Boston and New York for a total of 4-5 years, she had a startling difference in opinion between the two iconic cities.

New York she loved.  But Boston… man oh man, what hatred.

Her view stemmed almost exclusively from the fact that she couldn’t seem to find one restaurant, bar, or watering hole that didn’t have a TV.  As she described it, “No matter where you go in Boston all you can experience are people watching TV and eating.”  I found this to be a hysterically funny observation.

As we took the stairs up from the river path into the city, we shared a view/rant on the disparity between Europeans and North Americans being solely an environmental condition.   There are several aspects to consider here, but for the purpose of this discussion we decided to focus on consciousness and appreciation.

Relative to the rest of the world, North America is a fairly “new” continent .  Everywhere you look are new buildings, new monuments, new restaurants, and new billboards… all perpetuating the idea that perhaps history (and art in many cases) don’t particularly matter.

Now don’t mistake me, I think using history alone to guide our future is one of the fundamental  mistakes of human beings, classic lazy logic; but the awareness of history as an influencer of perspective I find much value in; and continental Europe has this in spades.

The awareness of this deep human history in any major European city is nearly impossible to escape. From the cobblestone streets, to the old world architecture and landmarks;  no matter where you turn it’s impossible to not breathe in the realization that there are many that have come before you, and many that will surely come after.

However, it seemed to us, to be a serious defect of too many North American travelers to blow through a sprawling metropolis like Paris or Rome for a couple days, merely to check an invisible bucket list, and show their friends on Facebook  how wonderful their lives are.  Unless you’re <20, I don’t find much excuse for this.

I personally just cannot comprehend visiting a new city bursting with art, history, and wisdom, literally, at every street corner; yet all only coming away with a review that the city is overrun with tourists, is dirty and disorganized.

We defined this personality as the definition of vapid, and the perfect example of people I need to stay away from.  I mean, if you cannot find the beauty in a city like Paris or Rome, my only question is, “What did you expect from a 2000 year old city?”

In contrast, Swiss cities are marvellously clean and superiorly organized, but to judge a major world city – that’s lived through the ages  – based solely on its hygiene and crowd control, well, what we have here is a flawed lens by which to view the world.

As you can tell, our stroll towards our next drink took my friend and I on quite the self-righteous tangent.  And sure, we might admittedly be culture snobs, but it was fun to stand-up on a soapbox made for two for a little while.

We then arrived at our next destination.

She has lived in Basel for two years and yet I’m the first one to show her this place…. meh, this dating stuff ain’t so tough.  😉

Chill Am Rhy  – Set against the Rhine River and lit up like a Christmas tree, not bad Basel, not bad at all.

With yet another Aperol Spritz in hand, I began getting lectured on how comic book movies are a waste of time and the only movies worth watching are those about relationships and real life. This is certainly where I keep my feet planted in North America.

I even thought I was making up some ground on behalf of DC and Marvel, but the debate ended with her considering, maybe, perhaps, one-day if she had nothing else to do, she would watch Batman Begins or The Watchmen…possibly.  On the other hand, I somehow agreed to watch a Woody Allen documentary she recommended at a local theatre a few days later…. which I loved. Go figure.

In an episode of the show House M.D. (One Day, One Room), they suggest the philosophy that our entire lives are a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our life becomes.  And as I watched my date step onto her tram to head home for the evening, with the thoughts of her personal stories and ideas marinating in mind, I realized how incredibly true this is.

The people we choose to have in our lives, no matter for how long or short a time, will either bring us closer or pull us away from who we have the potential to be.

All it took to realize this was a pleasant evening with a pretty Latvian girl.

Europe strikes again.

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