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.