I'm so grateful I got to see both how big and diverse and also how small and human the world is. People everywhere have the same basic motivations: love, security, survival, relationships, etc, and I did not feel like a stranger as I traveled. I don't know if that's me, or if it's the dilution and homogenization of culture or what, but I felt completely comfortable, even the few times when the language went over my head.
I found the land familiar yet new and fresh at the same time, mostly because of the latitude difference that caused wonderfully late nights and allowed for flowers I've only ever dreamed of to bloom in wild effusion. It is beautiful there, and the cultural nuances of buildings, landscaping, cars, fashion, and food made it a total adventure for me.
So, what did I notice most? What will stay with me? What do I keep thinking about over and over? Here are the bullets for now:
- The chocolate and cheese and bread. And Schoko-meusli every morning for crying out loud. I am missing it, but I'm not quite ready to pay 20 dollars for a box (with the shipping). It, for now, will have to remain a fond memory until I test out a recipe and try to figure out what Americans have against chocolate in breakfast cereal. What is WRONG with us??? But beyond gushing about that, I did like the care and appreciation for food there. Some stores are smaller, but there was always plenty to choose from. Food mattered-it didn't seem like a part of life only to be gotten through, but instead it was a part of life to be, literally, savored. That's something I can emulate here.
- The Bicycles and the walking. Honestly, if there is one thing I might want to someday get political about, it would be shifting our America to be friendlier and more workable for bicycles. I think my town of Columbia really tried to do that when it was born, but I live on the edges of that planned community, and it is either actually dangerous or a pain in the neck for me to be able to use my bike for everyday things like going to the grocery store. My world is not really even set up for walking. I was just recently at a hotel outside of Chicago and there was all this shopping less than a mile from the hotel and so I decided to walk over and back. People thought I was NUTS even though there was a sidewalk the whole way over. But then, inside the perimeter of the shopping areas, there were no sidewalks. I got honked at because I was walking along roadways. In Europe, people were out and about everywhere, all the time, in the country, in the city, and everywhere in between. The carless walk- and markt-platz areas of the towns have actually increased commerce in most cities. We really should try more of it. I loved seeing even the old folks riding about on their bicycles. I liked the slower pace, and the fact that on tiny narrow streets, the assumption always is that the walker or the rider has the right of way over the driver. I can do what I can over here, and Evan and I are talking about a plan to get him riding his bike more so he can have more independence. When I was growing up, my bike was my ticket to, well, anywhere, and I loved that feeling.
- The resilience and optimism of the European people. Over and over again we were reminded of World War 2. Places where I just walked and bought chocolate or took a million photos were, less than 70 years ago, flattened and utterly destroyed. Europe has rebuilt and reinvented itself in just a couple of generations. Old and new blend and contrast all over the place, and both are valued. The fact that they have, collectively, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and started all over again thrills and amazes me and fills me with admiration. We've had our hard times over here, but only in isolated instances of natural disasters or cows kicking lanterns have we experienced utter desolation, and it has never been continent-wide. I think we have some lessons to learn about that whole picking up and dusting off thing. I can learn patience when it comes to getting past hard times, and remember the sacrifices of others rather than being selfish. I can remember that I'm part of something bigger than just my own needs. I think there are a million unknown stories of that kind of community and generosity in the world, but there needs to be more.
- And last but not least, (and probably not actually the last): The world is a cool place and I want to see more of it.
Thanks for reading along and commenting and being as amazed as I was at my tiny taste of a whole different continent. It was a great experience and I'm glad to have it recorded. Now onto the rest of my crazy summer.