My Top Eleven Discoveries of 2011: Part Two

5. La Sagrada Familia. I went to Barcelona thinking that the Sagrada Familia was a wacky-looking unfinished giant African termite mound of a cathedral that the locals praised because they were stuck with it.

Admit it: you can totally see the resemblance.

Then I stepped inside. And I have a new favorite building. As I point out in the previous blog essay linked to there, I’d never even thought of the idea of a “favorite building” before. Sagrada Familia is a temple of the human spirit, and a reminder that great architecture is as important to art as great painting and great music.

4. The Netherlands and Belgium. What amazing countries! Canals, cafes, flowers, bicycles, charming old streets. I visited The Hague, Leiden, and Antwerp, and although the Hague is necessarily a rather vague, diplomatic city full of Eurocrats, the other two were brimming with character and life–but not with traffic or noise. To list all the things I love about the Low Countries would take hours. To start: double-decker train lines, walking along canals, the relaxed atmosphere in which everyone seems so comfortable with themselves, the friendliness, the flower-boxes…

We ate at the place on the far right. Also: told you this place was huggable

…the street performers…

Street pianist, Antwerp, Belgium, May 2011

…everything. I could move to Holland or Flanders tomorrow. Oh, and what exactly did take me so long realizing that Belgium would be wonderful? For some reason I assumed the country would be sort of bland; but of course it couldn’t be. Any nation that can produce the world’s finest fries, waffles, beer, and chocolate has to be awesome.

3. That I Can Walk 20 Miles in a Day. It’s not easy, especially not with a backpack carrying all my clothes and supplies, but it’s possible! And fellow Rice alum Carina Baskett and I walked across 75 miles of northwestern Spanish hills this summer. The actual walking can bring exhaustion and weariness, especially at about 3 p.m. if you’re up in the mountains without a nearby fresh water source, but there is also a strange way in which walking, and then keeping on walking, becomes reassuring. It’s harder to stop than it is to keep going. And, whether because of the views, the food, the people, or the simple pleasure of knowing that you’re on your own and going where you want to go at your own pace, the experience is truly very satisfying.

Here’s a blog recap. And here’s a photo:

Sunset at Lires

2. That I Can Write a Novel in a Month. I’m as surprised as anybody, honestly. Starting in January, we’ll find out how long it will take me to edit a novel written in a month.

Writing a novel proved, I should say, surprisingly awesome and kind of thrilling. Working without outline, plot, or a feel for any of the characters, I genuinely did have a ton of uninhibited, unplanned fun almost every day, and the story eventually managed to gel into some semblance of a functioning whole. There were maybe three days where the work was hard, two because the chapters were dull and I was feeling uninspired (not to fear; these are earmarked for rewriting) and one because (spoiler alert) the ending of my book is depressing and I didn’t much like having to write it. A trusted friend has told me that the final chapter is “perfect,” so at least it worked. There is much work yet to do, but the actual month-long marathon of writing a novel as quickly as possible proved satisfying in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Second only to finishing my master’s degree for my proudest achievement of the year.

1. Phineas and Ferb. Reasonable people all agree: a cartoon show which gives one of its main characters a three-minute-long Bond-style jazz/rock theme song describing him as a “semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of excellence” is surely the best thing to ever appear on a television screen.

Also, let’s remember that this is a children’s television show which once created a song called “Give Up” with the lyrics “It’s not really failure / if you’re not even tryin’.” We are in the presence of genius, ladies and gentlemen.

My favorite discovery of 2011? Phineas and Ferb: the only show I ever need to see again.

Bless you, Perry the Platypus!

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