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Catherine

Catherine

Writer, poet, blogger. Author of debut novel. Bohemian traveler who imagines and discovers stories. Works on developing new medicines for cancer in biotech industry.

Being "Out There"

Posted by on in 2017

 

It was the lunar New Year this past Saturday.  A time of new beginnings.  And time to start posting again.  It has been a hiatus of 4 years.  I write hesitantly because when I first started this blog back in 2010, it was on a dare.  And I was anonymous.  It was me and a small group friends sharing a delicious secret: the adventures of an unsuspecting city girl turned bohemian.   The thrills, the embarrassing moments, the stupidity, and the memorable encounters. The very stuff of life.  How liberating it was to shout practically anything into cyberspace and not have it boomerang back to me.  I miss that freedom.

 

I had stopped posting when I put my name to it.  Because now, I am known as a person.  A writer. An identity.   For those of you who are creatures of the moon like me, you understand how terrifying that is.  I say “creature of the moon” because I am shy.  I like mystery.  I like finding out things measure by measure, the gradual beauty of culmination.  The others, the sun-people, are much braver.  They are “out there.”  All at once. They put everything out there, undeterred by consequences or the fact that the internet world, by its nature, is irrevocable.  You can never be sure that anything is deleted.   You can never take it back. 

 

And there is power in that.  To know this and still to be out there in plain view.  It takes courage.

 

So now the challenge is for me to be “out there.” 

 

So here I am.

 

I wrote a book.

 

It took me seven years.

 

I wrote it when I was broken.

 

I was lost.  I cried, I laughed, I did ridiculous things, and somehow I found my way back. 

 

That’s my story.  And the story of the book.

 

Perhaps that is everyone’s story.

 

And I’d like to share it with you now.

 

The Fisherman’s Bride.  Available on Amazon.

 

That’s my book.

 

That’s my way of being out there.

 

And joining you people of the sun, brave and bold and admirable and incomprehensible.

 

And I am still petrified.

 

But I am out there just the same.   

 

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Chatting with Channing

Posted by on in 2013

It had begun ordinarily enough. Back in 2007, I was flying home from a wedding in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida, home of the famed Salvator Dali museum and retirement mecca for Americans aged 65+. Weddings had become routine to me, particularly since I was not acquainted with either bride or groom, and I was attending purely out of the social obligation of being a plus one. Nonetheless, I enjoyed dolling up and looking pretty and dancing on the arm of a less than perfect man. Particularly in a ballroom flooded with light high atop a famed hotel, sunshine accompanying every movement of everyone in that narrow circle of sunset.

I sat in an exit seat, besides a fellow who was so tall his legs extended to the next row and so he looked awkwardly cramped, even with extra leg room. He seemed good-natured (and kind of cute), so we began talking. Apparently, he was also flying back from a buddy's wedding to the New York area. "But I live in LA," he added.
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Post Script: Rules of Machu Picchu

Posted by on in 2013

After the smoke clears in Peru, what is left? I distinctly remember Machu Picchu as a place where all things break; rules, relationships, restlessness. Back in 2008, there was a sign that stipulated the following: 1) no food and drink allowed (I carried a bottle of water with me, maybe two) 2) no shouting (I sang atop Huayna Picchu) 3)no urinating. Although rule # 3 was improvised by me, I am quite sure there was an unspoken law against this, and probably broken by many (like my companion)as the restroom at the entrance was so far from the rest of the site it was inevitable someone couldn't control himself.

In times of crisis, we discover ourselves. Our true, authentic self is bared in all its glory and all its ugliness. I came back from Peru knowing I needed to change my life. And I was resistant until change happened to me. Career, love, health, everything came crashing down like debris from a burning skyscraper, and in vain I searched amid the rubble for who I am. I learned that I write, thoughts flowing into stories, a river of consciousness that became real under my pen or my word processor. I was the channel. I write because I have a need to be understood, to share, to materialize a fantastical vision awakened somewhere between dreams and reality. I write because it is my connection to the universe; I write because I am compelled to write, and it is as natural to me as eating or sleeping or talking, except that sometimes I forget myself, my true self and the writing itself becomes dormant.
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L'eau Vivre in Lima

Posted by on in 2013

Lima was an engaging city. The saffron colored San Franciso Cathedral, emblem of the capital, could have been just as easily named after Pizzaro as much as the saint from Asissi. I remember the vibrant yellows of the historic city center, Spanish Neoclassical and baroque architecture, and the sunniness of the Peruvian disposition. And above all, a French restaurant.

L'eau Vivre, Living Water, was an elegant, high end joint boasting the best French cuisine in the city, run by French Carmelite nuns. Housed in a exquisite pale pink palace, the walls were reminiscent of salmon and delectable strawberry macaroons. Rumors of a serenade of Ave Maria accompanied dinner, but we went for the far less expensive lunch menu. L'agneau and vin du rose. For the dessert, les crepes au Cointreau en flambe. The match lit the alcohol, and I saw my partner on the other side of the dancing flame, his features somehow blurred by the proximate heat. I blinked and continued to eat, the flavor of intoxication burning my tongue. Suddenly, I realized he was not what I wanted, the very fundamental fiber of his being was so different from mine. I swallowed as he continued to talk, to charm the nuns with his fluent French. I nodded, catching a word here and there about adventures and promises and oh so many wondrous things. When they wished us a lovely future together, I began to feel sick inside.
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On the Precipice: Peru

Posted by on in 2013

I stood on the precipice overlooking Machu Picchu. It had been a sweaty climb to the top of the Temple of the Sun, but well worth it. It was breathtaking. The fog had finally dispersed over the Andes Mountains and views of the Lost City of the Incas were riveting, magical, and surreal. Here, we could see the symmetry of their walls, stone upon stone and edge upon edge slanting in the same direction, the building of an awesome civilization. Sacred geography. Water gushed along the crevices, an ancient watering system that still fed into the hot springs of Aguas Calientes for common folk at the foot of the mountain. The sun warmed my cheeks and I was an eagle, yearning to fly.

At the same time, I am afraid of heights. Beside me stood the man I loved. Little did I know we would part before the year ended. The path downward was infinitely more difficult than climbing up. The steps were jagged and broken, too narrow to contain a whole foot and people wound up tiptoeing sideways while balancing the gravitational pull to the center of the earth. I stopped and stared. I thought I was going to die. Gingerly, I stepped down and then tripped, hanging onto a branch for dear life. I trudged forward again and slipped, clinging to rocks for survival. Then I decided to descend on my reliable behind, muddying the seat of my jeans beyond recognition. I was never able to wear them again.
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Love in the Lost City of Petra

Posted by on in 2013

It's easy to become intoxicated by atmosphere. In the lost city of Petra, rose-colored sandstone and scintillating skies render a hotbed of love, albeit the most unlikely love. Love flushes and blushes like a young bride in this wonder of world, brought to international attention by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Al Khazneh, the Treasury, stands as centerpiece of this architectural marvel, carved with beauteous colummns and friezes of a pink that seemed to glow. Instead of Harrison Ford flashing his famous whip, tour guides lead gentle donkeys bearing tourists. All the guides belong to the indigenous people, the Nabateans, a people ancient as the Bible itself. They are modern-day bedouins, shepherds who make decent money showing impressionable tourists around the city of their ancestors.

That's not all. Nabateans also have a particular way of wooing. They show eligible female visitors that this is where they grew up, where their grandfathers tended goats and where their mothers churned milk. They show the lofty monastery atop the mountain where they climbed as children, and iridescent walls where they hid from their parents. Then they show the women their tents, where they proceed to do the thing that men and women do. Afterwards, these modern and curious ladies (often American) decide to stay. No joke. They marry into the Nabatean tribe, and live their lives in shepherding villages. Apparently, it happens all the time.
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Species of Travelers

Posted by on in 2013

There are many types of travelers, like there are many kinds of people. After spending so much time in airports and hotels, I've learned to identify them by their attire, behaviors, and natural habitats.

The Consultant: This particular species of traveler is unmistakable. Young, intense, immaculately dressed in black or navy suit and starched shirt, the textbook uniform of a young billable consultant making an impression senior management. They look about 2-6 years out of college; their skin is luminous and yet unlined, save for the potential frown when they are engaged in deep thought. They are often absorbed in responding to emails via blackberry, Iphone, or labtop. If they do look up and speak, their language is apt to be reassured and measured, diction reminiscent of an Ivy league education or some coveted university in the top 10 lists. They have been around the world, or the country, in a matter of speaking, for some lexicon of a project where they have seen many things at lightning speed, but have never taken the time to savor. Time, they would tell you, is a coveted possession they currently do not have, and their homes are more of a concept than a reality; so little time do they spend there. Due to the mileage they have covered, they are usually found in airline lounges for frequent fliers, or rather exclusive hotel spaces reserved for VIPs.
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Fatima Awaits

Posted by on in 2013

Long before I discovered Mary in Epheseus, I convinced my mother to go to Fatima, Portugal. Not that I was a fan of the shrine; rosaries and processions seemed a bit nonsensical to me. In fact, I despise the word "religious" because it implies dogma. Nonetheless, Fatima was my mother's dream. For her 60th birthday, she yearned to sojourn to this sacred place of apparition and healing energy, and my mother is a woman for whom few dreams have come true. So I booked airline tickets to Lisbon, Portugal followed by a short excursion to Barcelona, shortly before her 59th birthday. I don't believe in waiting. Birthdays, timelines, ocassions, are all rather arbitrary. So we wait. In the meantime, people die, revolutions arise, natural disasters occur, the physical world or our own physiological systems could deteriorate while we anticipate the "right" time. I say, Carpe Diem. The right time is now.

Perhaps I should share another anecdote. My godmother, my namesake, my beautiful Aunt Catherine died of Stage IV cancer at the age of 44. She was a Georgetown graduate, a dentist, and such a wonderfully tempered woman, so at the end, she was comforting her neurotic, healthy sister Agatha undergoing a bad case of pre-marital jitters. Aunt Catherine had made only one request of me in twenty-six years, to spend a weekend with her at the beach. In my heart, I heard her plea. I even envisioned myself beside her. But no, I was a consultant, and I was on a deadline. Also, Agatha's wedding was the following weekend and I had already slated vacation days for that event. So I told my godmother I would see her at the wedding. Unfortunately, she never made it to the wedding. The few designated days she asked me to spend with her were the last days of her young and vibrant life.
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There is Something About Mary

Posted by on in 2013

I never quite got Mary. Catholics are taught to have a reverence for the Virgin Mary, the holy woman whose obedience rendered an extraordinary destiny. Catholics also believe in apparitions, when she had appeared to simple peasants or children, asking them to pray. She was thought to be the symbol of peace. At my mother's behest, I dragged myself to Lourdes and then Fatima. Beautiful shrines were erected in the midst of prosaic villages. I often found my spirituality was often in the surrounding woods or barren paths on the other side of town, bare spaces where it was easier to listen to the silence. So I trudged along, going to processions out of habit, and avoiding rosaries whenever I could. I thought the true ordeal she endured was watching her innocent child die, and Mary was not alone in that in our current crime-infested world, so I thought, what's the big deal?

A few miles outside of Epheseus, Turkey, was the house where the Virgin Mary lived before she died. I was skeptical, another Marian shrine. However, I found a small, dilapidated wooden house with few furnishings and long lines. Outside the site were plaques engraved in Arabic, lines from the Koran heralding the mother of Jesus and juxtaposed were biblical verses. Then I walked inside that cramped hovel, and saw a cramped room. Crowds of Catholics, and Muslims (indicated by their colorful head scarves) stood side by side praying, kneeling, and meditating. Each was respectful of the other's space and need for proximity to Mary, the things she touched. Many were so moved by their presence so near to Mary, that they began to cry. Inaudibly, tears rolled along a myriad of cheeks. Some opened up their prayerbooks; Bible and Koran were indistinguishable while the soft chanting seemed a universal murmur.
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Coffee with Olivier

Posted by on in 2013

I traveled by water taxi on stormy days in Amsterdam. Rain pitter-pattering on the roof, the drone of tourist recordings heralding bridges or sites, and the voice of Sarah Brightman drifting from my Ipod. Despite the loose behavior one would associate with legalization of victimless crimes like prostitution or smoking marijuana, Amsterdam is surprisingly pristine. Canal waters were clear and grey reflecting the ambivalent skies, not dirty like the waters I've seen in China's Suzchou or Venice. While trolleys and cars were accepted means of transportation, bicycles were by far the most common. There were more bikes than people. In fact, the greatest hazard while crossing the street is being run over by a bike. Bicycles had their own lanes beside the sidewalks. The Dutch were fit due to the physical exercise exerted to get from place to place. Only tourists were obese.

At Amy's advice, I headed to the house of Ann Frank promptly at 9 in the morning, since later hours would engender massive lines. Unassuming from the exterior, aside from glossy life-size photos of Ann and her girlish script denoting the museum within. Upon entering, there was a model of the building which served as a store, and the Secret Annex, where the Frank family hid from the Nazis for nearly three years. Living quarters were minuscule, even by New York City apartment standards, tiny shoe boxes connecting room to room. They had an airless, claustrophobic feel and I could not imagine an inquisitive girl growing into womanhood, writing and dreaming and falling in love, cooped up with only a few feet of shared space. Suburban Americans hold the concept of space very dear. As mortgages became more accessible, their physical boundaries expanded. Nowadays, a 2000 sq. ft townhouse with three bedrooms is deemed "too small" for a family of four and having a child necessitates a mini-van, as those little darlings occupy so much space. Imagine six rooms with seven people, three hormonal teenagers, sharing about 500-600 feet of living space all the time. Even though Ann did write of feeling stifled, it made Peter's proximity even nearer and the escape into her diary all the more dearer. The Secret Annex's bareness and simplicity resembled prison cells. I began to see the human ability to adapt to conditions that were previously regarded as "unlivable." Viktor Frankl compared the human ability to endure hardship to a gaseous entity; it always swells to the size of the container. Deprivation of liberty certainly falls into this category, and I garnered new respect for Ann.
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Amy and Amsterdam

Posted by on in 2013

When I returned to the hotel that evening, Amy surprised me with a birthday dinner along with her colleagues. Together we gorged ourselves on tasty Dutch cuisine. A carnivore at heart, I ordered stamppot, a heavy concoction of mashed potatoes, sliced carrots, and rookwurst, a delectable sausage. We also shared a serving of bitterballen, crunchy deep-fried orbs are battered in a breadcrumb coating and filled with a mixture of chopped beef, beef broth, and spices. As I bit into the core, hot juices exploded into my mouth and my eyes watered. Amy and I laughed about how bitterballen resembled xiao long bao, Shanghai soup dumplings. Asian girls in Amsterdam; she was Taiwanese and I was Vietnamese, both of us born and raised in America. We went to the symphony one night, and we shared glasses of wine over an exquisite concerto.

Friendship was like peeling away layers of an onion. Beneath her veneer of Princeton-educated reserve, Amy was sensitive, self-deprecating, and direct. She had an aversion to cell tower radiation, the same electromagnetic source as microwaves. She seemed to get headaches and nausea whenever the signals was too strong. She always asked me to turn off my cell phone or my IPOD. At first, I was skeptical. After all, this is the new millenium and it was rarer to find areas without wifi/cellular signals. Science has not really explored this.
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Red Light District

Posted by on in 2012

It was my birthday. I hopped on a flight at EWR on a certain evening in March, and awoke on the morning of my life anniversary in Amsterdam. Amy, my idiosyncratic and brilliant friend, had invited me, or rather I had invited myself and she did not decline. She was in the Netherlands on business, training consultants for the telecommunications company her parents owned. I was a woman of leisure. I arrived promptly at 10:15am to a quaint boutique hotel de Filosoof, where a key was waiting for me and a plethora of guidebooks, maps, tourist paraphenalia that Amy had prepared. I might add that at this point, I actually didn't know Amy well. We were acquaintances in the same bible study small group, where Amy was silent and mysterious and I was vocal and controversial. (A Lone Catholic in the midst of Protestants is bound to be interesting, no matter how pacifist we all were) All I knew was that she was very sensitive to cell phones.

Jetlagged, I decided to walk and become familiar with the city. I was particularly curious to see the ConcertGebow, world famous music hall and acoustics where the most accomplished symphonies and composers had reigned. Of course I was lost, my sense of direction was pathetic and it was very cold besides. I inquired after my destination in abbreviated form "Where is the Gebow?" and got strange stares. Apparently, Gebow is a general term for building, and I was actually asking "Where is the building?" in a streetful of buildings. No wonder I seemed confused.
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Mayan Legacies

Posted by on in 2012

Jenny and I stared upward at the Temple of Kukulkan, the renowned step pyramid and centerpiece of the archaelogical ruins of Chichen Itza, capital city of ancient Mayan civilization. Built in homage to the feathered serpent deity which maintains its name, there were carved serpent heads at the ends of the balustrades.

Underwhelming.
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Searching in Cancun

Posted by on in 2012


Cancun was a place I had never intended to go, but there is something wondrous about saying "Yes," accepting an invitation and extension of a friendship that ultimately became a kinship. My friend Jenny was traveling on a business trip there, and the resort was such a vista of paradise that many of the conference attendees brought a significant other. I walked the white sand shores in the morning, and studied the transparency of water throughout the day. It was more than just examining the many shades of aquamarine; I was searching for a familiarity, a story that had begun with the sea.

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Silhouettes of Strangers Who Became More

Posted by on in 2012

My memory has never been linear. Europe has been a litany of experiences and people that somehow melded into one as I recounted that journey westward, a Dejas-vous of all the things that have touched my life. Some remembrances are crystal clear; others are blurry and indefinite as things that seemed to have never happened.

I had encountered Kyle, an army officer on leave while on tour of Dachau. Afterwards, the English speaking group gathered for a drink and I joined them for typical peripheral small talk. The group dissipated except for us two, keeping each other company before our respective trains, his destined for Vienna or Salzburg and mine destined for Prague. It seemed military men were extremely lonely. I thought nothing of it when he asked for my email address, but he consistently wrote me long emails for months afterwards. He even wished he had kissed me, but perhaps the romantic fancies are far more potent than the reality. He had a rather pleasant, clean-cut face with chiseled features, and I would altogether not have minded kissing him. Then again, looks could be deceiving and he might have slobbered all over me.
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Olivier and Instinct

Posted by on in 2012

Somehow I dragged myself back from the metro and into the incredibly warm bed of the hotel. The next day, it was snowing. Heavy feathers floated from the sky and dissolved onto the black pavements. I crossed the Charles bridge over the Danube on the way to the train station. Sick as I was, I still toyed with the idea of going to Poland, even though the weather was well below freezing. Then my better senses took over and then I headed to the platform for Munich. Then I turned towards the train destined for Krakow. If there is one thing I have learned, it is better to make a decision, any decision, even if it is the wrong decision, than to remain in the throes of indecision. I scurried back and forth between an ideal and the needs of my ailing bones, like a chicken that lost its head. Well, I lost my hat. In the last minute dash between platforms, I lost my well-insulating, furry hat that covered my ears. Great.

I arrived in Munich, back at the eventful Euro Youth Hostel where I got sick in the first place. I longed to take a nap, but I wound up sharing a room with a young Arabic man who seemed polite enough. I had never seen anyone so closely resemble a pirate, from that dark swarthiness to the brusque mannerisms in which he handled his bags. Somehow, he seemed sinister and a horrible feeling spread from the pit of my stomache. Too uncomfortable to stay in the room (we two were the only occuppants that night), I went to the lobby.
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Black Light Theatre and Mulled Wine

Posted by on in 2012

Jane was a young, attractive drama teacher from Australia whose smooth accent matched the vivacity of her nature. At twenty-six, she was traveling the world for a year. Typical of Aussie backpackers, since they live so far from the rest of the world that when they embark on an adventure, they are abroad for at least six months to a year. If only Americans were that bold...

We became fast friends. The blighting cold ushered us towards the Church of St. Nicholas, gleaming more like a chateau in the midst of Old Town Square. The interior was airy and everything glistened; light was used as an architectural construct and it was organic and transparent, almost like a highway to heaven. I remember the rose-colored marble of the columns, golden cherubs kissing the altar, and the Versailles-esque gilding upon an impeccably white facade. A jewel of Baroque architecture, the services were sadly poorly attended unlike the masses at Paris' Notre Dame or Basilique of Sacred Coeur. Then I recalled that these lands were formerly under Communist rule and how those doctrines tended to discourage (i.e. punish) allegiances to anything beyond the state. God included.
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Not So Plain Jane

Posted by on in 2012

So I decided to stay at one of the ubiquitious Marriott Courtyard hotels in Prague, on points mind you, since I was still traveling on a budget. It was snowing, covering the world with an icy veneer that appeared even icier when one was desolate. I lay in bed, my body was leaden and wobbling, that disorienting state of weakness when you are on the verge of recovery. Without neighbors, there were no distractions and no motivation to see the city, so I wallowed in my own thoughts. Every mistake I had ever made, every regret I had about life, men, and career choices appeared in vivid images before me, and I felt my own worth dwindle in some intangible way.

I had never felt so lonely. Jenny called me after receiving a particularly depressing email from yours truly. Jenny was Chinese, fine-boned and fashionable, the epitome of professional success in corporate America. In her early thirties, she was a pharmacist and global director of regulatory in one of the most prestigious healthcare companies in the country. Why was she friends with a basketcase like me?
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Popular Prague

Posted by on in 2012

Yes, this sounds like a gimmick from a travel agency, but I quickly realized that Prague had become the new "it" destination, the rite of passage for all self-declared world travelers, the way Paris was ten years ago or China is in the present day. In my three days in Prague, I ran into more tour groups than in my thirty-seven days in all of Europe combined. So we have the obnoxious crowds, loud tour guides, poking backpacks and fanny packs obscuring anything and everything worth seeing in the otherwise romantic old city.

I was still sick, probably sicker because my generous, thoughtful hostel roommate in Munich decided to leave the window open before he/she left. I vaguely recall it was a short-haired woman whose odorous feet manage to keep me awake, aside from the fact that she removed my belongings from the inward corner bed (the toastiest bed in the room which I had previously claimed) and plunked it squarely on the bed nearest to the window (arguably the coldest place in the room). All I saw were her feet and her head, snuggled in MY bed. I contemplated waking her up and reasoning with her, except when you are dealing with inconsideration, what can you do? She was already asleep and I probably would have started a cat fight if I dared interrupt her.
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Dachau

Posted by on in 2012

I had always dreamed of seeing Auschwitz. Perhaps because I had studied genocide in high school; perhaps because terror, no matter how well-documented and analyzed, never ceases to shock the human system when we see the dark reality for ourselves. It is far too easy to forget, to lie within our layers of comfort and contemporary distractions, to bury ourselves within another part of history. I was never one for the easy path. I seek the remembrance of pain because it feels more real to me, far more real to be hurt than to be happy.

Well, it was snowing in Munich and forecasted to be inevitably colder in Poland. I could barely lift my head, let alone brave a train to the capital of the crematoriums. So what did I do? After sniffling and moaning and fretting the bad luck of getting sick at such an inopportune moment,(although I cant recall of an opportune time to get sick), I gave up a dream. Substituted it rather, with the help of free WI-FI and my trusty sidekick, the ubiquitous IPOD touch (wonderful invention, God bless Steve Jobs). In the haze of a sinus headache and a wet, rattling cough, I booked a local tour to Dachau. Not that one concentration camp could replace another, but I never did make it to Auschwitz.
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