letting the days go by.

07 July 2008

conclusions?

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.

3 comments:

Barbara said...

This was a really great post. I'm glad you're home. I got a new job. Let's maybe actually meet up some time this summer, lovely woman?

Rory said...

yyyyaaaaayyyy.

it was fun. glad you're home.

Betsy said...

Carol Drogus stuffed a photocopy of "Life 101: An Introduction to reverse Culture Shock and Re-Entry Adjustment" into my mailbox -- it was actually written by Tamara Scapicchio '95 -- and it was useless drizzle. The world would be a better place if you wrote something to replace it.