Europe: Not Just a Swedish Metal Band
On Saturday morning, I waved goodbye to a somber-toned Barcelona, steeped in gloomy rain-filled clouds (it hadn’t rained for the entirety of my 6 weeks there, so this was unusual) and started my journey to the United States of America. I no longer have a home in the USA. I have an address, but no home. So after three months of travelling, I knew I wasn’t really returning to any kind of “safe spot,” so to speak, but for all intents and purposes, America is my home. It’s my loud, NASCAR-loving, afraid-of-blowjob-giving, Jesus-worshipping land that birthed me from its star-and-striped mangled uterus almost 28 years ago.
I’m not patriotic or the kind of person that feels that your nationality ever matters, but being back in the USA, I see how living in this country for so long has shaped me into who I am. I didn’t just fall to where I am unguided. I am not a girl with no past. I’m born of culture, even when I’m rebellious of that culture.
My flight had three parts, but the longest was a 10.5-hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Seattle, Washington. Trying to beat jet lag, I decided I wasn’t going to sleep. My only problem was that the only form of entertainment I had was my quickly dying laptop and the riveting in-flight movies (ha-ha Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston leave their glam Manhattan lifestyle to go live in a commune in the deep south and Paul Rudd awkwardly says the phrase ‘erection selection’ and yes I’m admitting that I actually watched it). So I thought.
This is how my journey to Europe began:
This was my apartment in Portland, Oregon. I moved out of it literally the day before getting on the plane to France to meet up with the rest of the DeviantArt dev team. I either threw out, gave away, or sold everything in my apartment aside from a road bike, a stuffed shark, my clothes, and a few small items. I’m not really sure what elicited the decision… my lease was ending and it just wasn’t practical to renew it given my desire to travel. Of all the places I’ve lived in my life, this apartment was the closest thing I had to “home.” I had a lot of good memories here, especially near the end of my time there.
The very next day, I boarded a plane to France.
I was going to Les Sauvages, France, a small village near the town of Tarare (about an hour out of Lyon) to spend 2 weeks with everyone in dt and dA’s product marketing, product, and marketing teams. It was a really good experience overall, but a majority of us were deathly ill for a large part of the two weeks and looking back on it, my memories of it feel like it was like we were staying at a highly scenic concentration camp 🙂
The infamous cock whose balls I shoved down my shorts to prove to Djordje and Chris what a big man I am.
There’s actually a blog entry about this meet in dt’s blog!
This was a very odd first exposure to Europe, given that I was being quarantined in a small village with mostly English-speaking people who often crowded around the dining room tables to make gross errors translating the dinner menu (“pommes de terre?? earth apples?? what?? what is this mystery meat! why does this quiche taste like spinach and fish!”)
In the middle of this, I got to see the south part of France and on the way there, I saw some other towns, including Nimes, Avignon, and Saintes-Maries de la Mer. Ironically, although I did not see anything remotely close to this in Barcelona (because I realize Pamplona is where the running of the bulls takes place), I saw bullfighting in south France:
This part of the country was also highly infected with castles. As I typically would and always will, I relieved myself on a medieval toilet:
I also had my first moment of European rebelliousness in which I infiltrated a portion of castle ruins that were marked off limits:
“We’re sorry, but the fartprincess is in another castle.”
I was kind of glad to see this part of France. It was a very laid-back culture in comparison to northern France where Paris is. The people were more polite and helpful overall. It was my very first time having to speak French out of necessity, one to acquire cold medicine and also to explain to a woman at the toll road station that I had idiotically lost the ticket for the toll road–despite it being in a car the entire time… a feat that only I would be capable of doing… the truth being that this ticket was sucked into a wormhole and is now in a pasture somewhere being shat on by a cow). I also lost my phone in a car rental place inside the Lyon Par Dieu train station. This was a pretty crappy experience in which I incurred $500 of international data roaming charges to my phone (and later haggled with AT&T to get down to a much lower number).
A week later, I traveled by train north to Paris and stayed there for 4 weeks. I was living in the 19th arrondissement with a Frenchman named David. David was really awesome but was not around for like 3/4 of my stay in Paris and so I awkwardly was, in Eric Carmen fashion, “all by myselfffffff.” Paris was kind of a low point for my stay in Europe. You might even say Paris was a big “bag of pain” even:
I had read about a very specific type of culture shock called “Paris Syndrome,” in which visitors to the city feel extremely alienated after having been disillusioned by very romantic imagery of what the city is. I know a lot of girls like the idea of Paris for that reason, but I’m not that kind of person–Paris was selected on a whim months ago, a city where I could do language immersion. I had a very specific reason for visiting. I needed to figure out who I was on my own, independent of any place I was already familiar with or anyone close to me. It was an existential challenge. And it was a bit daunting and scary at the very start, but I think I saw the challenge and took off running with it as best as I could, even trying to dodge the curveballs that were thrown at me in the midst of it. Although I admit, the view from my bedroom was very pretty and that helped:
Things about Paris:
- If you visit Paris, you will at the very least leave the city knowing that the word for “sales” is “soldes.” It’s plastered on every storefront in the city. In fact, they even make t-shirts with the word on them and put them on mannequins. Out of curiosity, I asked a store salesperson if I could buy one, but they just looked at me like I was crazy.
- I struggled like hell with French. I met a few people through conversationexchange.com to practice with, but found that most of the vocabulary I learned, I picked up on the streets. Initially, it was very hard for me to get past my bad habit of responding to anything with “je ne comprends pas,” and try to work with what I could hear to make context.
- Of all the McDonald’s I have visited, France has the most bizarre, fucked up sense of creative license in how they construct burgers. A McDonald’s burger should never be on a ciabatta roll. However, while I was in Paris(!!!), Steve Mann, the human cyborg, got physically assaulted in a Paris McDonald’s (the very one I had visited!) by an employee. Exciting times! Also, thanks to McDonald’s, I learned that the way the idea of “sold out” is communicated in French is just about the cutest thing ever: “Recette victime de son sucess” (“Recipe victim of its own success”). Awwww.
- I’m not supposed to admit to this, but I visited the secret, illegal part of the Parisian catacombs. Oooooh. I won’t reveal how I got involved with this, but I went spelunking down with a group of 3 other people. It was wet, cold, and extremely exciting. The guy leading told me to be extremely careful because there are police that patrol the catacombs and although they normally just give you a warning to leave if they spot you, there was a chance that as a foreigner I could be imprisoned/deported if I got caught. But I didn’t. The catacombs had a lot of amazing graffiti, none of which I got to photograph because my Nazi of a group leader told me to not bring anything with me aside from a bottle of water and a flash light. Some of the rooms had a lot of human remains in them. It was kind of creepy, but in a fun way. There were certain passages in which you had to either bilder your way through or squeeze tightly through.
- I visited the infamous 16e, Pigalle, Paris’s sex district. I was a bit underwhelmed by Pigalle. Maybe because I’m not easily shocked. I did visit the erotic museum. I bought postcards with penises on them and then was told by a local that I shouldn’t even bother trying to mail them because they’d inevitably get destroyed by the USPS.
- My favorite place in Paris was Parc de la Villette, which housed Europe’s largest science museum. It was a fucking amazing place. It even had an exhibition that requested that you think of something “emotionally arousing.”
I have never heard the phrase “emotionally arousing” in my life, but I pictured a dude getting a boner from a love-filled hug and I liked that way of describing it. Thanks for the weird translation, France.
- I toured two different cemeteries, including Pere Lechaise (which was right by my flat). Each cemetery had these enormous sepulchers in them that reminded me of questing in Duskwood in World of Warcraft:
- I learned that all the super-cool Parisians hang out at Quai de la Tournelle on the Seine riverbanks on Saturday night. They bring out picnics and just hang out with their friends, drinking wine and eating cheese and dancing and being total stereotypes 🙂
- At some point during my trip, I promised Luka that I would buy him a Paris mug from Starbucks. I keep my promises but I am often very lazy about doing favors for other people! As a result, the Starbucks mug followed me across 3 different countries! I finally mailed Luka his beloved mug Friday afternoon from Barcelona, Spain. This mug at some point in time housed about 70 euro in coins. I hate coins.
- I also went to the Louvre. La Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) is the smallest painting you could possibly imagine and it is hilarious to watch so many people crowd around it when there are so many other beautiful, very emotional pieces of art in the museum that seem to go unnoticed
- I stayed in 19e, which is one of the outer arrondissements. It was very dirty. People in Paris like to randomly pee in the street. In fact, one of the street cleaning trucks I saw warned people to not pee on buildings because it costs so much to clean. I love that I live in a world where we have to warn sapient beings to not urinate on things.
- I was starving by the time I left Paris. I am a very adventurous eater, but I didn’t like food in France. It was hard to get protein and good fat. It was just hard to eat healthy in general.
After Paris, I went to Berlin for a week. I loved Berlin.
Mostly because although Berlin is very pretentious and anal in ways, there is something a little bit wacky and cute about it:
I finally fucking found a Bort license plate:
“Come along, Bort.” “Hey are you talking to me?” “No, my son is also named Bort.”
I spent a lot of time on Karl-Liebknect Strasse (which in my head always comes out as Karl Lagerfeld Street). On this street, I spotted a Peruvian flute band. I’m too lazy to post a video of that, so just take my word for it. It was amazing. Especially considering I never once saw one in, you know, Peru.
Berlin was Meat Christmas. The streets smelled like sausage. It was all delicious.
I also fell in love with the souvenir vendors. I don’t normally like souvenirs, but I mean… how can I resist an S.S. hat and a gas mask?
I went to der Computerspielenmuseum where I played a game on something called the Pain Station. The Pain Station is a pong game where when you lose, you are punished by physical pain. There’s an electric shock, a whip, and a burning thing. I saw photos where people’s hands were extremely fucked up from this, but I walked away unscathed so either I’m an expert at pong or I’m just awesome in general (or both).
Everyone in Berlin was very nice and there was a lot of meat. I’m going to leave it up in the air that the two were somehow related. I did get lost on my very last night in the city. A bird took a huge green dump on my phone. A guy with down’s syndrome gave me unsolicited and misguided directions on how to get to Alexanderplatz. And I ate Burger King at 3AM, which is the worst time to eat Burger King.
In all, I loved Berlin. A+++, would go back (except for the rain).
I then moved on to Barcelona for 6 weeks.
I already wrote pretty extensively on Barcelona here, but there’s more to it. Barcelona was hot, sticky, salty, and colorful. It reminded me of the child sleeping deep inside of me. It inspired me. I wasn’t prepared for the heavy amount of tourism there, but ignoring that, I came to love the city.
The beach, for one. The Mediterranean is extremely salty and has very gentle waves. At night, there are no waves and you can swim very far out in the moonlight, like a salty lake, and just float… it’s very beautiful.
Although I was constantly craving a decent American breakfast, the food in Barcelona was not bad. I’m not really a fan of tapas or overpriced touristy crap, but my neighborhood had a wide variety of vegetarian places since it was a very Islamic area and well… that kind of ruled. There was also this awesome burger place called Kiosko.
Sometime in the middle of this adventure, the project I am leading, DreamUp launched into public beta. I was amazed that I could work on such a huge project while traveling abroad. In fact, working from Europe was actually very awesome. And, of course, it was amazing to see it launch.
At some point, I got the opportunity to ride on a scooter all around Barcelona, including ripping through a cemetery and defiling statues by french-kissing them.
Barcelona was a very emotionally intense experience for me. I’d love to write more about being here, but I am having a hard time detangling my perceptions of the city itself with my personal, private life. Just let me say that what I learned about myself in Barcelona was just as deeply profound as anything I learned about myself in Paris, possibly more so. And it was good, very good.
Now I am back in the United States. I am back in Portland, Oregon again actually. But not the same part of the city I lived before I left. I am only here temporarily, staying with some strangers in the southeast part of the city, a part of the city that I love but am not very familiar with and in a way, that’s probably good for me.
My perceptions of the United States are a bit insane right now. I am suddenly very aware of how much product variety we have. It is weird to enter a small convenience store and have access to like 50 different kinds of sour candy. I mean, why do we need that much sour candy? I also notice that Americans are very big on small talk in comparison to our brothers to the east who are very aloof and private in comparison. I don’t think anyone ever asked me in Europe, “how are you?” unless they sincerely were expecting an answer. In the US, we ask everyone this question and yet we don’t even wait for the answer.
I also am more aware of how spacious everything is. The room I am staying in has about 20 square feet of absolutely nothing. People have giant yards. The sidewalks are wide, unlike in Spain where often there was only enough room for one person to be walking on a sidewalk at a time (it was very common for people to just walk in the streets on smaller streets).
Did I miss anything while I was in Europe? Yes.
- Books in English
- A haircut (I have not had my hair cut in 4 months now)
- Gyms with free weights
- My bike
- Donuts that aren’t disgusting
- Air conditioning
- 24-hour stores
- Streets that don’t smell like someone just pooped in them
- Access to a washer/dryer (to be fair, Spain had bugaderias/lavanderias which do full-service laundry but it seems like everyone in Europe had only a washer but no dryer and so clothes never felt fully clean)
- Privacy and personal space
- The ability to get a meal in less than 45 minutes
People ask me if I’m happy or sad to be back. The answer? Neither. I am sort of in a limbo state right now. I have friends here and I’m happy to ride my bike again, happy to visit some of my old haunts, happy to relax, happy to breathe for a moment… but you can’t go home. You can only go on.
Being back here is evoking very strange memories for me, namely ones I forgot I ever felt, ones I didn’t realize had symbolic meaning to me, ones that almost bring tears to my eyes. I went to New Seasons to pick up dinner and I had a very vivid flashback to my very first evening in Portland from a year and a half ago, in which I went to New Seasons for the same exact reason. I had moved to Portland because I had a dream and I was so happy with myself because it was a reality suddenly. I can’t get into the full details of why that dream was such a massive thing to me, but it involved overcoming a very debilitating and depressing stage of my life in which I was powerless and in many ways hopeless, crushed under a thumb.
Here I am again, back in the same city, realizing I just lived a dream and that I am in full control of where that dream goes. I have a control over my life that I never knew I could have, one that you can only get once you realize that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Also, because I’m too slapstick to end a journal on such a philosophical point, a game called “you know you’re in Portland when…”:
When kids draw farting butts on the sidewalk.
When you can get a hot dog with your espresso.