letting the days go by.

07 July 2008


Oh man oh man oh man. This blog bit the dust in a mighty, mighty way, and for that, I truly do apologize, for all of the three people who actually followed this thing in all its sporadic, paradoxical and over-vocabularized glory. But here I am, back in AMERICALAND, where the air itself tastes like freedom and the portion sizes are phenomenal and the Diet Coke is like a waterfall, Honestly, though, it's been a pretty solid mix of being glad to be back (my bed, my dog, being able to do laundry not in a sink, driving around with the old gang) and a painful, vicious missing of everything I left in Europe. And a lot of it has been a dull butter knife of a reality check: Tulsa, you know I love you, but you are so ugly compared to Vienna (and I don't fault you for that because it's Vienna, after all), and your people, while they are the friendliest, nicest folks you'll ever stumble upon - there's something about them that makes me think not "How did I get here" but "How was I ever here." And "How do I get out of here." But where else can you go sit in a bar, waiting for your brother to finish mopping up the humidor, and have a tipsy chat with the other lingering patrons who tell you all about their wedding and the piece of cake they've got saved in the freezer and the perils of in-laws, and then, afterwards, they hug you? Complete strangers giving you a hug - that's Tulsa. Or at Wal-Mart - Wal-Mart itself! - the cashier can't ring up the iPod broadcaster you've bought in preparation for your epic journey across the baking hot West, so she simply asks how much it was, and you say the real price (28) and she says, "Let's call it 26." Wal-Mart for the win! The Midwest! Walt Whitman-style exclamation points! Coffee!

So in short, Tulsa, I will not marry you, but you've been a good mistress and I'll definitely be back for conjugal visits. You are, after all, a sluT backwards.

I left Vienna on June 30th at 1:40 p.m., rode a train across Austria into Germany, flew out of Frankfurt on July 1st in the mid-afternoon, landed in Chicago at 4 p.m. on the same day, downed a cheeseburger and nearly went into a caloric coma, arrived in Oklahoma at 10 p.m., went to a bar with my parents, and passed out at 4 a.m. in my bed. Prost, my friends, prost to that.

And since I've been M.I.A. from the internet for going on three weeks now, I could go up to my room (a simple fact which is still astounding to me, even though the ennui of summer is already settling in) and grab my handwritten journals and report what I did, but everything has changed, as the song goes, so instead, here's a run-down of Europe vs. the U.S.of A. We had to fill out all these "DIGEST YOUR EXPERIENCES AND ADVISE FUTURE STUDENTS QUICK START PROCESSING ALL OF THIS" surveys, but I remember a lot of what I wrote, though, at the time, I was more than likely hungover, sleep-deprived, and utterly unprepared for the tests I had to take later that afternoon. So:

4 Things You Will Not Miss About Being Abroad:

1. The roommate. Anna was very nice, and while I was tempted to leave her some form of poorly-worded German note saying "I'm sorry we weren't better friends, but I was satisfied with living with you, I hope it was mutual, have a nice life," I totally didn't. Granted my mind was elsewhere, but still - rooming with someone sucks. Hands down. The liberty to sleep when I want, to sit at my computer when I want, to have a wardrobe exploding with dirty laundry without the anxiety that I'm grossing someone out - that's priceless. The dorm wasn't the best, either, between the constant partying for that motherfucking Euro soccer tournament, the unfriendliness of my Soviet floor-mates, and the Coke machine that was constantly out of Coke. A friend of mine back home asked me once whether I spent my time with Americans or Austrians, and I said Americans, naturlich, because the language barrier is immense. To which he replied, "Don't they all speak English?" And yes, they do, 8 year old Austrians speak better English than I do German, but the inability to casually converse, to say, hey Anna, how was your day, will you be out late tonight, was maddening. On the other hand, being surrounded by German and German-speakers and Austrian customs made our little band of Americans the fastest, snuggest group of friends I think I've ever made, and I miss them all more than a phrase like "I miss them" can convey.

2. Expenses. Things are expensive in Europe, and the guilt of all that money stalked me like a homeless dog for most of the trip. My dad already gave me the "Now that you're home stop using the credit card you're on your own sport" talk, and I will never, ever ask what the grand sum was because it's probably more money than I'll ever have in my pocket again. Again, the upside of this is the beauty of the American dollar, how a $20 dress is completely worth it because you can't find dresses for 13 Euros; likewise, 50 cent drinks at Quiktrip are beyond amazing, and let's not talk about gas prices because everyone wants to talk about gas prices and all I have to say to that is OBAMARAMA. But we got pretty good at doing things for cheap - our last Saturday was beautiful, we traipsed into the Wienerwald one last time and walked that long hill down to the Donau, sat on its banks and waved at the passing motorboats. I could've lingered there all day, with the sun on the water and my feet dangling above, the bees in the flowers and the sky so much bluer than it is here.

3. Massive Inconveniences. When I went to Wal-Mart yesterday, my shopping list looked like this: iPod dojigger. New purse. Bobby pins. Polaroid film. Socks. Padded envelopes for long-distance packages. Cell phone. And within an hour, I had all of that and more in my cart - and yes, the consumerism is hideous and the people are all overweight or with bad haircuts (OR BOTH), but do you know how long it would've taken to acquire all that in Vienna? An Apple store, a beauty shop, a junk store on Mariahilferstrasse for the purse, a camera store, a Handy dealership, and the post office - longer than a day's worth of errands, and I went without (though I regret not taking my Polaroid with me). And this is all just whiny, I know, but if it was raining, which it more than often was, no way would I have left the womb of my dorm or the accommodating couches at the Central Abroad office.

4. Existential Angst, Boredom, Loneliness, and Insurmountable Pressure. This is the stuff they do not warn you about, and you heard all about it through this blog - here, in Oklahoma, I wake up and think about what I need to do today, and the list is always fairly long but at least there is one, and it does include such things as "Eat Sezchuan" and "Take Penny for a perambulation (because if she hears the word 'walk' and then you flake out on her she mopes around the house for hours)." In Vienna, we were stumped, and while I like having ideas and suggesting wild plans, the resulting responsibility of that almost negated any fun we'd try and have. We finally figured out that Down Time - like watching Forrest Gump and drinking the cheapest wine we could buy - was as much fun as Crazy Up Time - like spending all our money at the Prater to ride that enormous swing with our shoes far below on the ground and Vienna spread out in a sunset below us. But you know as well as I do how much I stressed and worried and felt like a colossal waste of time and space, and maybe it was just me. I don't regret it, though, because when things ironically got easier towards the end, when we didn't panic about how little time we had left but rather started really enjoying every moment of it, it felt so much better compared to the mess I was going through in April, in February. And that's when I decided this was amazing, and that I'd give crappy answers when anyone back home asked, "Well how was Europe?"

Of course I changed. You can't not change after something like that. Did it rattle my perspective and challenge me and put me in new situations and make me question and reevaluate everything I'd known? Sure. But a lot of that was individual, certain circumstances, neuroses paired with serendipitous happenings, fate and chance and preset coordinates together. So I can't help you, wee young undergraduate, to make your decision; it's a chance you've got to take, and I shake your hand and say God Speed, send me a postcard when you get there.

On to the sappy business, though I've been waking up early from this jetlag all week and by around mid-day I'm pretty bamboozled, after spending the morning at the keyboard with a cup of coffee, so it's a little familiar to have this cathartic outpour of babbling to start off the day. The coffee doesn't help much, either.

4 Things You Will Miss About Being Abroad:
(More like 400 - little things, so many Kleinigkeiten - but I'll do my best.)

1. Cafes. Corny as it may be, I remember very distinctly one windy afternoon where I decided to go be a fancy-pants and sit in one of the finer cafes in Vienna, surrounded by Austrian yuppies and businessmen on cellphones, where the waiter called me "lovely woman" (bad translation, it doesn't sound that weird in German), and I sat there with my coffee and my cigarettes and my journal and again, thought, what am I doing. But it made a lot of sense all of a sudden - in Vienna, coffee shops are a given, you can spend days in there and no one minds, you can order a coffee that could be downed in two sips but you're supposed to linger and look at the clouds and observe the passersby. And that's what I love doing; writing at home (ask sometime and I'll tell you about the semi-perverse way I've written down my entire life in various notebooks - I'm on #24 and I'm 21 years old), while not a chore, was always something done alone in my room, when I was aching for sleep or dying of insomnia, and Vienna is the place to go for that kind of mentality. It fit so well with me, regardless of everything else that shouldn't have made sense - the Austrian highbrow lifestyle, the impossibility of German, the fussbudget attitude while I was an Okie in dirty jeans and a t-shirt most of the time. And Vienna has around 1000 cafes - the trusty Aida, where I finally swiped a cup and it's sitting beside me now full of sub-par, over-sweetened Folger's, and our favorite, the Votiv Park cafe, run by a family and straight from 1948, with a little dog who loved nothing more than running after people on the sidewalk and barking, the 11 year old boy who practiced his English with us. I miss that a lot.

2. Public Transportation. You want to go be on top of a mountain overlooking the foothills of the Alps? Half an hour and you're there, in the heart of the wilderness. You want to see an exhibit of modernist painting in a former palace? Ride the D line around the Ring and get a student discount. You need to be on the other side of the city at midnight, get drunk, and get back home in one piece? U-Bahn, a block of walking, and take the Night Bus back. It was all so so so easy, and especially now that I'm 21, when going to bars with my friends is something I can and want to do, the simple fact of not having to worry about how am I going to return to my bed without a ticket, a DUI, or dead in a ditch is nearly unbearable in its absence. Especially when you are a lush like me. We finally made it to TGI Friday's for the Happy Hour in Vienna, because we were aching for America, and we downed probably a gallon's worth of margaritas, but this was the middle of the day, and we collapsed in a park for a puppy pile until we were sober enough to get some coffee without making American asses of ourselves. It was great, totally worth missing Class & Charter Day.

3. The People I Didn't Know. I can count the number of people I encountered that made me glad to be in Europe, but inherently, as they were Europeans, they were a boatload more intriguing than your average American Joe. The British lads in Oslo that made my last night in Norway worth remembering, solely through some pleasant conversation. The German Angel in Berlin who rescued me from a bathroom stall on my 21st birthday. Necmiye, the Kurdish girl I went out for coffee with half a dozen times, who made me realize I could be funny in a foreign language. Anatol Eschenmueller, our professor, with all his hysterical English idioms and dry, little old man voice and incredible wardrobe. The Austrian girl I met on one of my last nights, who not only volunteered to try her Bankomat card in the cigarette vending machine (they have those in Austria, unfortunately they're useless to someone sans Austrian Bank Account), and though it didn't work, she walked with me down the block as we were going the same direction, complimented my German, and wished me a good trip home. The man at the hostel in Amsterdam who gave me cigarettes and just chatted with me. All the wacky characters at the Goethe Institut: Liebe Stefania with her little girl's voice who kept trying to set me up with Kamil, the dreamy Polish RA, and Terada-san in all his 61-year-old Osakan insanity, Walter Dooley the Irishman who I was crushing on so hardcore even though he's 30 years my senior, Bosco the dancing African, Adnan and Ana, Pawel, Darko, Le and Lin and Jin, the Turkish mafia, everyone everyone everyone.

4. And finally, most obviously: The Gang, The Homies, The Crew, My Friends. Suzanne, as she was filling out this same "PROCESS YOUR ABROAD EXPERIENCE" survey, had written under What She'd Missed the following: 1. You guys. 2. Beer. 3. Beer. I feel the same exactly, maybe with the added #4, Beer With You Guys. Because we were all smitten with each other, a little conglomerate of American co-eds from various time zones and states, different schools, different and all so much the same, and that's been the hardest thing to adjust to: knowing Suzanne will not be making an immaculate dinner tonight, that Annie is not downstairs on facebook where I can send her a message to meet up for coffee, that we won't be dragging Tommy to do some fun thing in the woods, that Rachel and Kevin and Blake are all in their respective hometowns, and that Rob isn't around to get a late night beer while all the Austrians are watching the soccer game on the projector screen set up in the bar. That's been the hardest by far. And like I said, "I miss" doesn't come close to the feeling of it; while home is exciting and interesting and comforting, I'd kill for one more day. That's why we're all going to Disneyworld sometime, because it might, just maybe, be as magical.

So thanks, everyone out there in cyberland, for reading, and I hope it was enjoyable, and I'd like to thank the Academy and the Internet and the Austrian People and the Alps. I've got to go take the dog on that perambulation now, get out of my jim-jams and mail some love letters, but it's been grand. I'll be seeing you. Good night.

15 June 2008

still here.

Monday: Tacos and a fruitless quest for Sachertorte. That's about it.

Tuesday: Grumpy internship, and then Breakfast for Dinner, following the completion of my Referat on Thomas Mann, which awed my professor solely because I put stupid captions on the pictures. Aside from an easy A, I'm grateful to Malloy for at least teaching enough of the basics on Thomas Mann that I had ample material to bullshit with. I never said I was a good student. [ Irrelevant Aside: Mom likes to tell me I peaked in middle school, which is so reassuring for someone healthily in the smackdab of the first quarter of her life - according to my mother, I'm currently a shell of my wunderkind, 12 year old self -- liken that to what I remember of middle school - a lot of angst, a bad haircut, and Pepsi One.] So we stock up on beers at the conveniently always-open Supermarket at Westbanhof, cook some greasy, delicious eggs n' bacon, and get drunk enough to expound on all manner of Ex-Patriately things. Namely our dogs. That was a joke. In honor of that Goddamned PainInTheAss Euro Soccer Tournament I wrote about, Suzanne snagged some facepaint, and in a moment of drunken "This is a good idea" she covered me in it, so I went home with Annie prepared to answer anyone who dared ask which country I was supporting with "THE UNIVERSE." Mainly I looked insane.

Wednesday: Met with Necmiye, the Kurdish girl in one of my classes who I see once a week to work on English (basically we get coffee and talk about how annoying our class is), and then blasted Grammar time. I hate Grammar class, as does everyone on this trip, because it's not the useful, practical stuff we learned at the Goethe-Institut, it's structureless, meandering lectures about grammar forms we will never, ever need to use. Fortunately this week we actually learn something worthwhile, and afterwards, Rob and I go to the Votiv Park Cafe, also known as THE BEST CAFE IN THE WORLD, and have another of those ambling conversations that has no real route but made me feel a lot more sunny about This Whole Business afterwards - and talking, the mere act of communicating, has been one of the benefits of being here, whereas at Hamilton, no one ever says anything or listens to anyone unless they're drunk and then they forget it in the morning. Of course, that's not the case everywhere, but I think the kids here know me twice as well as the people I go to school with, despite having known me less than 6 months; maybe I'm wrong, and maybe I'm a little bitter, and maybe that's just how it is. Point being, I love that cafe - the only waitstaff being a friendly old man, this little kid who can't be more than eleven, and a tiny dog.

Thursday: Toured Parlament, which was fun, solely because it's in the middle of the "FAN ZONE" which has barricaded nearly every interesting building in Vienna. Annie and I dash over to the Modern Art Museum to see an exhibit called "Bad Painting, Good Art" which was, as promised, horrible, but we had a fine time. I doodled Kanye West on my notes during class. I am getting very good at doodling Kanye West.

Friday: University Class is snoresville, Annie meets me and we go on an Aida mission after a giganto lunch of sushi. One thing I do not want to eat when I get home - fucking sushi. I've had enough sushi to populate an aquarium. Weather is horribly cold and wintry, so we waste a few hours in a bookstore looking at coffee table hardbacks until we go see "The Happening" which may honestly be the worst movie I've ever seen - granted, my standards of Freaky Things has been raised to new heights by the perfection of The Twilight Zone. Afterwards I meet up with Ceci, from high school, and take her tp the Zwoelfapostlkeller for some schnitzel and beers, where we just end up gossiping about our graduating class (who's married, who's about to get married, who's in Asia, and who has a baby). Surreal, to say the least, to be throwing around names from my high school yearbook with a fellow Tulsan in the middle of Vienna, Austria.

Saturday: LAKE HUNT. Going only by a vague sense of direction and the big blue blot on the map, Annie, Tommy and I went questing for this lake, which we found and promptly lounged beside and enjoyed the weather for the ten minutes that it wasn't cloudy. Falafel dinner. Realized Neubaugasse is a really, really long street. Watched 6 episodes of The Twilight Zone with Annie due to lack of energy, money, ideas, and do not regret it, because Dennis Hopper was once very very young and a Neo-Nazi and poor William Shatner wasn't imagining the gremlin on the wing of the plane. Granted, it was just a man in a sheep costume, and much more frightening when I was small.

Sunday: Into the woods, twice in one day - first with Annie, wandering into Grinzing and looking down at the panorama of tiny Vienna and pointing out all the landmarks we now know: the Spittelau trash compactor tower, the Riesenrad, Stephansdom and the Votivkirche. Later, I went on my own and got lost, ended up in a field, and just kind of sat there for half an hour as the dog-walkers and joggers went by, thinking damn, this is just about it, isn't it.

And that's it.

10 June 2008


Hello out there. Schizophrenic though it may be, I'm about to negate that last post with a much-needed List of Grievances, just because I am running low on smokes and maybe this will help. In short, let's call it Why I Am So Done With This Right Now.

The Internship has gone from making me feel altruistic and righteous to making me want to slam some small skulls in with a baseball bat, and it's the same kind of frustration that arises after any job. I know I felt pretty murderous when I was a waitress, but there were ways to vent that steam, and besides, I left every night with a wad of cash in my apron, so it was suffering for something. This, now, is just annoying - kids don't listen to me, kids make fun of my German and then don't listen to me, and today, I just left early after prowling around the off-limits, third-floor attic (think where Bastian reads The Neverending Story), after being informed in one class that I was simply "unneeded" (which was fine), but then the next class just wasn't there, and I was waiting around when I thought fuck it, I don't care, I'm going. And what am I doing this for - I don't regret it, not yet, but goddamn, I could do without it so much. 7 a.m. wake-up for 3 hours of nothingness and 1 hour of being yelled at by Austrian kids.

The rooming situation is still silent and awkward and just exhausting; and I realize I was so happy this weekend because I had the room to myself. It's silly and shallow but stressful, because where the hell am I supposed to go? And if I hear one more shitty chick-rock song--last night, Grandaddy's "Hewlett's Daughter" came on, and when she changed it 30 seconds in I fought the urge to shout "NEIN LASS ES."

Broke. I am broke. I am always broke. I am always hungry and always broke, and being hungry makes me exhausted, but having to withdraw from my bank account for the third time in as many days is stressful, because money, when I am ever going to have money, if I keep going the way I'm going the answer is probably never, and I wonder with a laugh whether I'd be much cheaper to support if I was dead and then I wonder how serious I am about that, so I just keep being hungry and think this is stupid, and when I eat it's disgusting and I'm sure this foretells of some deep psychological troublement between Rachel and Food but right now it's just making me 'edgy,' as my mother is so fond of saying.

EVERYONE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET SEEMS TO HAVE FALLEN OFF THE GLOBE. Or they are crazy, like my mother, who is counting down the days until we can go to a casino together and I'm really not too hot to do that. And there are few things worse than waiting for a response, especially when it's something as meager as a "hello how is your life," and it's wearing me down. Like all my clothes are worn down. And I have no money to replace them. Oh, and I can't do laundry, aside from washing it in the sink or dragging it across Vienna to someone else's dorm.

Lastly and largestly, the Motherfucking Goddamn SonofaBitch PieceofShit PainintheAss Euro Soccer Tournament. You want to go lie in the big, rose-filled park by the Hofburg palace, and read? Oh, sorry, we've closed it, because 50,000 drunken Europeans are amassed around the giant megascreen TV broadcasting the soccer game that's blocking off the entire street, and we've closed all the museums, too, because why would you want to go in a museum when there is FOOOTBALLL!?!? Also, don't try sleeping, because whoever won the day's game will invariably be drunkenly celebrating in the street until dawn. I'm tempted to buy my own flag, wear it as a cape, and go screaming through the streets shouting "CHINA!!!! GO CHINA!!! EURO SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPIONS!!!" Or just start carrying a gun.

And sure, I have no right to complain, but I never did honestly. But again, like the Internship, I step back and think, "Why am I here, what am I doing here, what does this matter?" And it doesn't, at all, which somehow is not liberating anymore but just a waste, of money and time and energy. I know what I want to do and I haven't been doing it, because I can't. And this is all whine but lordy, lordy, lordy, does the Going Home sound sweeter by the second.

In the meantime, did you know you can watch the ENTIRETY of the original Twilight Zone for free online? My latest fantasy - Rod Serling shows up in my room, telling an unseen audience how "Rachel Richardson, 21 years of age, recently published and combating anxiety and ennui in Vienna, was about to realize the preciousness of her precociousness as she briefly ventured into...THE TWILIGHT ZONE." And then I'd be all "FUCK ROD SERLING I CAN HEAR YOU AHHHHH" and then some freaky shit would probably go down. By which I mean because I'd be in the Twilight Zone. Not because Rod Serling was in my room. Doo-doo-doo-do-doo-doo-doo-do.

08 June 2008

thens, nows, and laters.

In a probably futile attempt to organize these jumbled things I pass off as blog posts (see also: every paper I've ever written), we're going high-concept tonight, so brace yourself, this might get hairy.

I am good with the Now right now. Now being me, in my dorm room on Boltzmangasse, far from all the idiotic hubbub of the Euro Soccer championship that has basically assaulted Vienna and made everyone into drunken noisy idiots with flags painted on their faces (and we all know how much I like facepaint), after a rainy-sunny day of unwarranted stress and an excursion down the Danube, a movie with my friends in my room because Le Roomie is out for the weekend. Now is good. And it's harder than it should be for me to say that with conviction, but it always has been - as my writing colleagues always tell me, Rachel Cannot Tell A Straight Story. Linearity is not my forte, and I keep journals and read through them too much and am usually jumping between the Past and the Future, neglecting the Now, and not always by accident. Now, though, right now, is pretty grand, and made grander by the Later (because tomorrow is Sunday and I can wake up whenever) and the Then of what was today, and what was last week, and last year, and all those everlasting other 'last's.

Because we had us some times. I don't know who you are out there reading this right now, but regardless, we have had us some times, you and I. Maybe in 12, at the Toga Party of my 20th birthday, or just watching Planet Earth stoned on a Sunday night or climbing on top of the refrigerator to graffiti the ceiling, or maybe it was my freshman year and we were on the roof of Babbitt passing out on each other and falling out of common room windows to get on to Minor Field, or maybe it was a Super Pie in the Keehn FacApt and then dancing all over the furniture.
Or maybe it was in Oklahoma, maybe we were mini-golfing and having fine dinners to judge our servers by our own standards of waitressing, maybe we were driving around doing nothing but listening to music and wondering what we should do with ourselves. Maybe we were on a porch, smoking each other's cigarettes, or we were in a pool with the dogs running laps around the perimeter, or riding on a scooter. Maybe we were in my backyard in dresses, or in coats, and the fire was lit and Penny was under our feet falling asleep. Maybe it was in a courtyard at lunchtime when we weren't yet licensed drivers. Maybe we were in New York City eating Indian food.
Regardless, there were some times, and we should be glad of them.

And today was all hills and rivers, wineries and coffeeshops, spending the day out in the countryside of Vienna, seeing Benedictine monks perform their midday prayer in a Baroque sanctuary, and it was glorious but it wasn't; because it looked so nice, so unreal and yet so ordinary, but really, I was much happier when we came back, when we acted like college students and crammed as many people onto a dorm room bed as possible to watch a movie on my laptop.

The week was rough, doing all the work I haven't done all semester while Vienna went wintry again, confusing my obligations with my responsibilities and drinking too much coffee and not sleeping well (for the record, I've decided Hell is someone listening to The Carpenter's "Close to You" on repeat for the better part of two hours while you are trying to sleep and can hear Karen Carpenter's anorexic croon from all the way across the street - seriously I was on the brink of screaming "SHUT THE FUCK UP OR AT LEAST CHANGE THE SONG" but I don't know what it is in German). And the weekend was off-kilter, drinking and eating and spending too much and then today's reaffirmation that this group of students in Vienna is absurd, myself and friends included - no sitcom writer could come up with these characters, ask me about it sometime - but it's all right now. It's all right now. All of it is right now, and it's all right, now.

And the future, flying cars be damned - I'm going to drive across the country in July. I'm going to graduate college. We're going to have a new President. And the ever-so-important Petting of Penny and Drinking With Family is only three weeks away. Three weeks after all this - doesn't seem real.

So that's my Nows and Thens and Laters, my Soons. They don't make much sense, I'm sure, and I'm sorry, but there they are - and what are yours?

01 June 2008

take me to the river, take me to the river.

IT'S JUNE. In exactly one month, I'm going to be semi-comatose on my plaid couch in Tulsa with Pennycakes in my lap and a suitcase too heavy to take up the stairs and probably drinking a 32 ounce QuikTrip cup of Diet Coke and Strawberry Fanta (try it it's delicious) full of incredible, incredible ice. But I'll also be away from here, here where the transportation is simple, the weather is balmy, and well, it's Europe. I won't be in Europe anymore. Europe, where we have ourselves some epic weekends (see also: what follows).

Here's a true story: I do not like beaches. I do not understand beaches. Granted, my lone experience with beaches has been either the rainy, stormy shore of Washington or the overcrowded, overheated sand-in-your-swimsuit beaches of Italy. In Italy, in 2005, I was fresh out of high school, still acne-faced and braces on my teeth and wearing dorky glasses with orange frames - the rest of the girls on the trip, meanwhile, and there were only two boys to speak of, were babes. Simply babes. I was not a babe. I don't really think I qualify as a babe now, but I definitely was a lot farther from babeitute in 2005 than I am now. So, our first day in Italy, we take a train from Florence all the way to Cinque Terra, this clump of five little towns on the Mediterranean coast, and the train took so long that I think we were only there for about 3 hours, during which our chaperones went hiking and I found myself with all the babes of the trip on a beach. (If this sounds familiar, it's the first scene of 'Primavera' which you can read in your latest copy of Red Weather plug plug hint hint shameless self-promotion). And there I am, pale and pudgy and uncomfortable in my tankini, the first two-piece bathing suit I'd ever owned, and there are these babes in their bikinis, drinking malt beverages and smoking cigarettes, and next thing I know everybody's taken their tops off. They jokingly invite me to do the same, but there was absolutely no chance, and that whole silly vignette of an experience kind of haunted me for the rest of the trip, like I should be shaking my fists at some unjust God with a sadistic sense of humor and shouting "Why can't I do that, too? Aren't I 18 and full of life and in Italy?!"

Well. Yesterday I was 21 and full of life and in Austria. And you can see where this is going, I'm sure - but we decide, it's hot out, let's go jump in a river. So we ride out to the Alte Donau Beach, bearing enough sunscreen to slather our shamefully pale bodies, and I'm wearing the same swimsuit from 2005, but the whole thing was so wildly different this time around. First of all, Austrian beaches aren't really beaches - we were lying on a lawn, in the shade of some giant deciduous trees, and there was a stretch of rocks before the Donau proper, and we splashed right in along with the naked babies and overweight old men and swam around and ate some oranges and reapplied the sunscreen. And, because this is Europe, there are breasts everywhere - breasts you don't want to look at and ones you do, old women and college students and everything in between. The whole time I was thinking about those girls back in Italy, girls I haven't seen since that summer, and that was really the main motivation that made me decide to just go ahead and bare it all (that, and one of my friends who was essentially raised in a sauna and therefore knows the delicate decorum of public nudity already had). So I did. And it was fine. And then we put our clothes back on, ate some home-cooked hamburgers, feasted on gelato, and played Scrabble in a bar. It may have been my favorite day here, not just for the cycle-completion of Rachel's Personal Struggle With Going Topless On Beaches (get me drunk enough and I'll tell you the half-dozen other Naked stories I have, courtesy of Hamilton College), but just the simple, fantastic niceness of lying around all day, smoking cigarettes and swimming, with good friends and good weather. Yet another ridiculous thing I can say I've done, though you see why my parents don't read this.

On Friday, though, things were not so pleasant. Went on a RESCUE MISSION to retrieve a fainted friend from the clutches of H&M, only to find out she'd been shuttled off in an ambulance already - she was fine in the end, suffering from Europe's Lack of Air Conditioning more than anything, but I spent a good few hours pretending I was a hero or at least a hobbit on a quest, and then showing up, sweaty and stressed, to the Central Abroad Vienna brochure photo shoot, which, I will not lie, I attended for the free food. Because I deliberately ditched the Central Abroad official Blog job, having had my share of bullshit blog entries, and because I was, and am, less than thrilled about this whole experience from a paperwork standpoint - and sure, I'm being young and rebellious, but having the "photo shoot" only reinforced why I refused to work for them. To disclaim - our program directors over here, Ruth and Marie, are fantastic, and I have nothing at all against them, but we've all had several venting sessions where we compared our arduous and disorienting experiences with the heads at Central, and our own incompetent Study Abroad directors. So, at this photo shoot, we were at a cafe that I've never set foot in, and I camp in cafes pretty often, forbidden to smoke and drink, and as we enjoyed our cakes and pastries, the official employee from Central College shoved a tape recorder in our face and made us repeat and reword everything we said until it matched what she 'needed.' Completely unsurprising, and I wasn't really annoyed, but check your local Study Abroad office sometime this fall for the new brochure, because, chances are, I'm all over it, looking unflattering with a mouthful of cake and with some bullshit quote about the "greatness" of the program. Admittedly, I very much enjoyed being photographed and feeling like I was famous - and like I said, free cake.

That night, though, we went out to a bar on the Danube Canal, a place I'd been only once before when I walked home at 4 a.m., and though it was a Saturday night, the place was eerily quiet. Beers in hand, we were just lounging at the picnic table when a grungy, greasy potential bum who looked like the ghost of Kurt Cobain asked if he could sit with us. So we said sure, for lack of knowledge of how to say no politely, and it was odd at first, but he turned out to be completely harmless and friendly, and willing to work with us and our beer-battered German skills (haha, get it?! beer-battered! THINK ABOUT IT). In fact, he was pretty sad, as he said his friend, someone in his sixties, had cancer, and it wasn't looking good for him, and then he just stared out at the water until saying goodbye. Poor Franz. Almost as sad as Martin, the little boy who lost his shoes.

But then, while we girls were in the bathroom, we came back to find a new guest at the table, who, upon finding out we were Americans, proceeded to lecture us on how we were killing people, how we kill children, how we bomb schools, all in broken English and as he could barely stand up. And that's one of the things Central Abroad does not tell you when you leave for Europe - you have to shoulder the entire fucking stupidity of your government, your legislative system, your country's mistakes. And I tried to tell the guy - the only incident I've encountered of out-right U.S. Hatred - we were Americans, but we weren't America, but he followed us to the bar and kept needling us, until Suzanne finally dropped some smack-down in hasty German and told him to essentially fuck off. We tried our best though - as this jackass kept accusing us in English, and we just said "We personally did not do that" in German, "We did not elect Bush," etc. And I'm not waving a flag for U.S. Pride or anything, I know we've done some stupid things, but there was nothing to be done about it right there at the bar. Even if a fight had broken out, what would've happened? An American and an Austrian would have gone home with black eyes. That means nothing in terms of the Real Problems of politics. That does no good to the bombed schools and dead children and all the other gruesome things this guy wanted to tell us about.

So then we had some indignant drunken Doeners. I doubt we'll be going back to that place anytime soon - an eventful weekend by the waterside, though, and I'll see you all soon.