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            I’ve broken out of the box. My entire life has been spent imagining places like England, Wales, Ireland, France and, as odd as it is that I’m here, Iceland. It made me feel very safe to think about these countries as mythical locations that could only be read about. The lives that take place in them seemed fictional. But now I’ve witnessed them first-hand. They aren’t folklore, loosely authenticated by bumping into the occasional accent. And frankly, it sounds oversimplified to say it, but people are people.

            Now I know I’ve said the English are scum of the earth. In many respects, their culture is tough to understand, French culture too. But I’ve met Jai, Sam, Nath, Ben and Clemence, Anne-Sophie, Anais, Pierre and Alice. They are kind people that accepted me despite my differences. You’ll get assholes everywhere you go. I’m met my fair-share in America but it’s easy to forget about that when you’re in your own neighborhood. As soon as you leave it, you’re hypersensitive. I’ve said it on here before and I’ll say it again: Be nice, give love and it’ll all be returned ten-fold. I’ve connected with people that I’ve never met before and I feel close to them. My world feels physically so much bigger and emotionally so much smaller, closer. I’ve grown in ways I never considered and traveled to places that I made promises that I would never visit to both my God and gods I don’t believe in. I’m new.

            I’m coming home. I’m going to blow in like a hurricane. So sound the liberty bell, release the eagles, set off the fireworks and belt out the National Anthem like you never have before. I’m coming back to my country and I’ve never been more proud to be from the United States. Oh, and I’m happy to be living in this world. I’ll be trying to discover more of it and meet some more great people as long as I live. (But maybe there’ll be a disproportionate amount of time spent in Ireland; America’s beautiful cousin.)

            Thanks to everyone back home that kept up with me. If I gave you a hundredth of what I received, I was successful.

            Onto the home of the brave,

            Big Cat Thomas, signing off.

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Goodbye Europe (typical outfits)

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            It was my last day in Paris, last day in Europe and the last day of my trip. Clemence and I hopped on the train and went to a big cathedral high up in Paris. From there, I was able to see all over the city. We walked around the area, watching the painters in the little square next to the church. Then we sat on a hill and watched a street performer kicking around a soccer ball and doing all kinds of acrobatic tricks on the lamp posts and cement platforms. It was a cool way to spend a morning.

            After that, we met up with Anne-Sophie, another French friend from George Mason. We walked over through the red light district and saw MoulIn Rouge, the famous exotic dancing spot. Typical tourist I am, I kept holding up the pack. Then it was drinks at a bar, a walk to the grocery store and a picnic at a famous spot on the Seine. All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a Parisian afternoon.

            By the end of the day, I was dreaming of home. I was thinking about seeing my Mom, my brother, my sister (when she returns),  my grandparents, Shirlie, Greg, Fiona, Anneka, Logan (my dog), my friends and all the stuff I’ve missed over the last month and a half. I’ve never been away this long. At first, it was excruciating but I got used to it. Now, I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.

            The trip through the airport in Paris was nightmarish. Huge lines, bag shuffling to make the right weight; nonstop bullshit. But then I found out that I bought one of the last tickets and it happened to be the comfort class on Iceland Air. So here I sit with my free beer watching ‘Batman Begins’ with plenty of leg room and a cushy seat. I was not looking forward to a repeat of the trip out so I’m in heaven right now. I’m counting the seconds, dreaming of a Chipotle burrito!

            I am going to have one more post after this one, but I want to thank anyone who has been following my trip. This blog has been a nice outlet for me in both happy and stressful times. As I read them over, I know it’s going to be hard to figure out something to end on but I’m going to try and explain where I am and where I’ve come from, physically and mentally.

            It’s a bird, it’s a plane! It’s,

            Big Cat

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Our Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in a wheelbarrow.

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            Music has the capacity to make changes. Yesterday, after those games in the morning and some early afternoon drinking, a few musicians pulled out their equipment and started playing. Well, guess who was Mr. Popular because he was the only one that knew the words to those American songs they love so much? That alone really changed the dynamic and everyone here is being really cool now. The rest of the day, all those guys that were quiet before we’re trying to discuss any shred of Americana, delighted when they realized I knew every bit going way back. (You’re goddamn right, I do.)

            Even though the music really made a big difference as far as being accepted was concerned, it didn’t come close to how much the music meant that was shared with me in Ireland. It made me miss everyone there. Music wasn’t used as a hoop that I had to jump through to gain acceptance, there was already unconditional acceptance. In Ireland, it was given like a gift. When I heard it played or shared in the making of music, it was expressive and bonding and marvelous. So, as far as culture is concerned, Ireland fits my style a wee bit more.

            But after the music and some drinks and dinner, I was told we were heading over to the field nearby for a festival. Every year, this village in Sens has a massive fire in a cleared off section of a wheat field. Along with that, they play music and do some dancing. This was my favorite part of France, no contest.

            As we approached the field, the fire was blazing and throwing off embers into the night sky. It looked like an angry pack of lightning bugs swirling against the blackness. When we arrived at the fire, we sat down and watched. It was something to behold: Accordion music playing softly, kids running around and throwing sticks into the flame, two women banging drums and doing Pagan chants (or phoning back to Mars?), wine, laughter, fire light dancing across the wheat fields surrounding us. It was true beauty. I sat with everyone and watched for what seemed like a lifetime.

            Even though I didn’t want it to end, I was happy to hear the dancing was due to begin. Loads of the village natives took the dance floor and began the traditional dances. I was pulled into the circle dance, then another and another and another until we ended up doing a traditional dance that resembled the electric slide. They were all specific dances, all fantastic. My head was swimming by the end of it.

            When we got back, the beer was out and I didn’t want to drink hard liquor. Actually, to be more truthful, I was worried that if I did, the memory of that night might be obscured. I went off to my tent and thought about home and my dog Logan as I drifted off.

            Today, we sat around talking for a while, cleaned up and suffered the worst traffic home that you could imagine. By the time we were back in Rueil-Malmaison, Clemence and I just watched the Euro final match and dropped off to bed (she only slept an hour and a half the whole weekend; impressive)

            Alright France, you win some major points. And especially now that I feel less bug-like and more a part of the group.

            I was the Ghost In The Darkness (Val had to burn the field to catch me),

            Big Cat

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Man, my life is just too hard sometimes. Poor me: surrounded by gorgeous French girls.

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            Abusing the metro system is a part of everyday life around Paris. I spent Friday jumping over gates on my way to the different sites around the city. Of course, I had to hit all the typical tourist locations: the Eiffel Tower (where we met up with another French girl I met at Mason, Anne-Sophie), the Arc du Triumph, the main avenue—all quite beautiful. After that, Clemence and I went back to Rueil-Malmaison and met up with her friends, loaded into a Peugot (a car I could swallow in one bite) and headed out to Sens; a city in the French countryside.

            I’m extremely pleased because I’m getting to use my tent finally. We made it out to the little villa and we’re camping in the garden. However, this isn’t the France that most would imagine or experience. It’s more of a younger crowd. But they do retain some of the cultural expectations. Last night they “barbecued” (though they coined the term, we dominate their barbecue) some sausages and we used baguettes for buns. Baguettes are used nonstop—they have a bag of twenty two-foot-long baguettes.

            But anyways, the night passed with me sitting in a not-warm, not-cold pool of French people. The women would talk to me a little, the men a little less than that. But it’s just a cultural thing. Still, after a while, I was feeling a little like a bug.

            The next morning I woke up for the fiftieth time of the night to the pounding music and found it even more difficult to gel with everyone as they were sobering up. They partied all night and all morning. It’s now two o’clock in the afternoon and only five of the twenty odd people have slept. As we sat around the tables outside, one guy put on this reggae song, “America”—pretty much an American hate song. I’m chalking it up to the language barrier and that he thought he was being friendly…

            NOW—incase it was intentional:

            It’s almost all American music playing while they’re partying. They’re clothes: English written all over them with American icons on the print. They smoke Marlboro cigarettes and pack Philip Morris tobacco if they make their own. They mix all their drinks with coca-cola. They even use our slang words frequently. I won’t even go into the typical stuff an American would normally bring up. So, hey, if you still want to play that song, fine. But go suck a lemon. And I know for a fact that nobody I hang out with would ever do something like that to a “guest”. But again, I’m going to assume it was unintentional. (Also, why do people keep looking at me funny when I order freedom fries and freedom toast?)

            Back to the morning: After a little while, Clemence invited me to play this French game where two sets of two basically play olympic hurling with big metal balls that you toss over the lawn. I was on her team and we destroyed the other team. Then, we played ‘catch the rabbit’ (it actually is a direct translation and the same game). For those that are unfamiliar, you have two teams with five players each. Each of the players are numbered and when the number is called, they race to the middle against the opponent with the same number to pick up an object and get back without getting a flag taken out of their pocket. Again, I dominated.

            I was a good sport about the wins but I think they were a little crabby about it. But whatever, the only one that’s gone out of their way so far besides Clemence is this drunk that’s high on hash most of the time. Now, we’d think most of the guys here are gay back home but the drunk might want to make out with me. As I was writing the beginning of this post (on a notebook because I left my laptop back home) he laid down in front of me, two feet away just staring at the writing.

            But—it may sound strange—I’m still having a good time. Clemence is nice enough to overshadow any negative stuff and the British guy we drove out with, Ben is being extremely cool to me—making sure I’m included and always chatting with me.  Plus, unlike Britain where I falsely believed they loved Americans, I knew the frogs had a track record of poor hospitality.

            And I am being hypersensitive to the few iffy things I’ve written about. They constitute a much smaller time period then it would seem as I reread this post. The beautiful surroundings haven’t even been mentioned. My tent is sitting under a cherry tree in the back garden of a house with superb French architecture. I walk around the villa picking and eating all sorts of fruits that are growing—strawberries, raspberries, cherries, etc. So it’s not bad at all. And besides, in a few days I’ll be back to celebrate Uncle Sam’s birthday.

            Maybe I’ll put on one of my American flag shirts,

            Big Cat

            (The Big American Cat, goddammit)

P.S. I cut my foot and Anneka would be thrilled to know I’m getting use out of her first aid kit.

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Never thought I’d see it in my entire life.

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            France—is not terrible! Seriously, it’s actually pretty nice. Yesterday, I arrived, hopped in a taxi and met my friend, Clemence at her family’s apartment in Rueil-Malmaison. I met Clemence at George Mason University. She was studying abroad and living with some other international students off-campus. All I can really say about her is she’s as sweet as a person can get. Good to the core. She is the reason that someone who swore he’d never go to France, finds himself writing home from the French-est place the you could possibly be (assuming that’s something quantifiable).

            When I walked in, everything was very French and I knew I’d have the opportunity to really get into the culture. The front door had a curtain on it. I’d seen this in the film ‘Taken’ so I’m just assuming that’s authentic.  The next shocking cultural thing is that we walked down the street having beers. In her purse, she always carries a bottle of red wine. It’s fairly surreal how laid back they are with the drinking. They say the Irish are drinkers but I never saw them with whiskey in their purse.

            The first place we went was a park near the Seine River. She introduced me to her friends and I was able to get them talking. I could tell they were unsure about me with my giant American flag t-shirt, but they tolerated me and possibly even gave an effort. So there we were, next to a golf course and the river, drinking beers on a sunny day. The group spoke a half-English, half-French mix and I was luke-warmly accepted into the conversation. The gathering broke up and they all hopped on their bikes and drove off—I assume drunk. But the whole thing was so very, very European.

            After that, Clemence and I took the train into Paris. When I walked out of the subway, the whole city scattered and I was told that I now owned France—it’s just way too easy! No but seriously, it was very beautiful when I got above ground. Aesthetically, the city is very similar to a D.C.-New Orleans hybrid. It’s pretty nice. Clemence took me to meet some of her friends in what she described as a ‘very Parisian apartment’. It was a small first-floor studio that looked into a little courtyard. When I walked in, I did the two kisses thing to everyone. I looked around—bottles of wine, cheese, smoked meat, French candies. I looked around again—hot French girl, hot French girl, hot French girl, etc. I suddenly realized that Clemence led the Big Cat into the chicken coup.

            We had a lot of fun last night. They played French music and talked about fashion and men and romance. They were dressed to the nines, too. Just imagine a giant communal cliché and you’ll have the image near-perfect. But, I must say, they weren’t rude. They’d give a dig or two when I’d not be familiar with a big French city or something; the whole American’s don’t know the world thing but it was in good fun. It was the type of thing I’d do to a foreigner. It’s more welcoming then distancing. They really liked answering questions about French life and culture. What I really enjoyed about it was listening to them speak French to each other. I have to say it: it’s very sexy.

            And okay, time for the confession. I learned something about myself yesterday. I came into France just waiting for someone to be rude to me. I was chomping at the bit for a confrontation. I had imagined the taxi driver saying that he wouldn’t take me because the destination was too far. Then, I’d explode on him. I knew that I wouldn’t be messed with again after my England experience.

            You can’t live that way. Yes, I was very much hurt in England. But the right response isn’t maliciousness and venom. Yesterday, I learned why people are the way they are. The meaner someone is, the more they’ve been hurt. It’s a defense mechanism. I want to keep some reasonable guard up but I don’t want to let the wounds I suffered at the hands of a few British assholes scar over. If I let them, then it makes me someone I don’t want to be. If I kept on like the way I was flying in, I would have found rude people—my attitude would have bred them.

            Anyways, that’s that. Today Clemence woke up throwing up and I have a sore throat. It was bound to happen on this trip. I’ve been living like a slob and not washing my hands enough. My throat’s not too bad but we’re taking it easy this morning so it doesn’t get worse. We’re supposed to go to the French countryside for the weekend, depending on how we feel today. Also, internet around here is not so abundant. If anything, I’ll be posting my final blogs on July 3rd, before I come home!

            You didn’t think I’d miss the 4th, did you?

            Big Cat

            (Gros Chat)

P.S. For all interested parties: My new story will be posted late on bigcatthomas.com—I need to sort out the story I want to post. Expect it around the 3rd or the 4th.

Double P.S. I miss all my Irish people!

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Internet is very hard to come by. All updates and farewell address will be posted tomorrow— at the airport on my way home!

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Unavoidable. The statue had rockin’ cans.

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                I think I’ve ran through as much of Ireland as you possibly can (and enough of England that you could possibly want). Yesterday was my last day with the car, my friend, Kelley had arranged to meet with some people in Clonmel that were friends of his grandfather. So, we got up and staggered out of the hotel; I drove and Kelley slept. After some time in Dublin, it was nice to get back out and see the pieces of Ireland that I’ve grown to love. It was clear sailing and I soaked up as much of the beautiful drive as I could.

            When we arrived in Clonmel, we met up with the lady that Kelley knew, Vera. She introduced us to Ted, the fellow that’d be showing us around for the day. Let me tell you, this guy was fantastic and he knew his Irish history. The whole day, he walked around showing us every inch of the town and he must have said ‘hello’ to at least every other person on the street, using their first name. He brought us in to meet the mayor (a position he’s held three non-consecutive times) and around to meet locals that knew Kelley’s grandfather.

            The first thing, looking back, that strikes me is the town pride and the closeness of the community. When I told Ted that I’d nearly seen all of Ireland, he asked, “So you’ve been to Clonmel?”

            “No.” I replied.

            “Oh, then you haven’t seen Ireland.”

            It was funny but that’s the type of thing someone back home would say about their hometown. Here it’s a bit unusual. You see, there was one thing really bothered me in County Laois. One night, Dave Keane and I were out in Portlaois checking out some music and I met a lady and told her where I was from. She made some comment like, ‘Oh, you poor thing. They brought you to Laois of all places?’ The tone was only half-joking. Now it may not bring around tourists, mainly due to it being away from a coast, but I can tell you that Laois is gorgeous. I think sometimes people forget to stop and look at how beautiful their home is. I heard kids growing up that would say how much the DC area sucked. I’ve come to see how fantastic it is. I think that to some extent, you need to be proud of your roots. It’s part of you.

            But yeah, it was nice to hear that town pride from Ted.

            The second thing that struck me, was how much of an impact Kelley’s grandfather, Bud Kelley has had on the citizens of Clonmel. I saw pictures of him hosting the town band at his home in Illinois, I heard stories from people we met about his generosity and I heard people speaking fondly about the ceremony where they spread his ashes at St. Patrick’s well. It kind of leaves you in awe to hear people who live miles and miles away expressing how much the man meant to the town. I wish I’d had the chance to meet Bud. But I also wish that I can be that type of person someday. To have an impact on people like that takes genuine character.

            Clonmel is another beautiful Irish town. Like most of the places I’ve been to, it’s packed with history.

            When Kelley and I got back, we were ready for a quiet night. We had some dinner and saw a movie. We got to bed pretty early and today, I enjoy my last day in Ireland.

            I have something to confess: I swore I’d never do it. I told countless people that I would never go there and made pacts with myself that I’d do everything in my power to avoid it. But, my dear friends—Big Cat is going to Paris, France. I’ll pause and let you find your breath.

            Now, maybe it’s the trip or maybe it’s that I have a friend who lives outside the city, but I felt that I’d never get the opportunity to see the country this way. I guess what that means is that after my travel abroad, I’m slightly less bigoted—by a razor thin margin. Do know that I’ll be wearing American flag shirts at all times (not like I have a choice, that’s pretty much my whole wardrobe). At least in France, I know the people won’t like Americans. It won’t be as shocking and depressing as my first moments in England. But yeah, I’m giving it a shot. And don’t worry. I’ll be home on July 3rd. Even with a delay, this American boy will not miss sweet Lady Liberty’s birthday. For some reason, I feel like I’ve just confessed a sin.

            Get a camera; I’ll be remaking ‘Taken’ in real life,

            Big Cat

P.S. Alternate titles for this post were, “Crackers In Paris” and “An American Big Cat In Paris”.

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It’s a sign— I’m getting an Irish tattoo today! (Just kidding, Mom)

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                Dublin is a whole different beast. I feel very much like I’m in a city over here. It’s a welcome change, though. If I was spending time in a small town last night I would have felt—I guess ‘homesick’ is the word—for Mountmellick. You may have seen ‘your man’ out on the M7 playing my Abbeyfolk CD and calling up a crowd to meet me in Lalor’s. As it was, on my way into Dublin, I was in sad shape. The radio played a song called, “My Own Dear Native Land” by Cherish The Ladies at just a perfect little moment and I was near tears. It captured my feelings about this beautiful place. Plus, I guess patriotic music in any form moves me— God dammit, I’m listening to it now with tears in my eyes. Someone needs to hide my car keys.

            I’ll move on. Like I said, Dublin was quite different from any part of Ireland I had experienced. My friend from America, Kelley Halpin came out here and we drained this city’s supply of booze—easing the sorrows. It was kind of cool because anyone from Ireland we talked to was easy to approach and I was able to impress them with my Irish knowledge. I don’t know if you all know this—but I footed turf and picked wildflowers and climbed Irish mountains. I’m as green as it gets.

            But it was nice to spend some time with a familiar face from my childhood as well. Sometimes you get so caught up in finding something that you don’t take a breath and look at where you came from. I’m light years away from the person I used to be but I still love spending time with people like Kelley. We had a ball out here. Today we’re going at this city pretty hard. It’s going to be a lot of sightseeing and exploring. It’s weird though, this place feels like a different country.

            The world keeps turning and it’s time to move with it. Like Annette’s husband, Dave said yesterday, “It’s time for the next chapter.”

            For I love every blade of grass, green on your mountain,

            Big Cat

NOTE: The Internet at the hotel blocked the host site for my blog, deeming it pornography. Two things: 1. I trudged miles to a Starbucks to post this, so perhaps that’ll be our generations version of ‘walking ten miles in the snow’ to get to school. 2. If I had known this site was deemed pornographic, this blog would have been a bit more piquant.

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(Use this if I ever run away) Missing: Cat $100 Reward