August 13th, 2003

This morning I awoke at 4. That’s some small improvement over yesterday, when I woke up at 3:30, but was able to go back to sleep until 5 and even better than the morning before, when I woke up at 3 and couldn’t sleep another wink. So we slowly approach a body clock somewhat in sync with the day and night cycles where I am now living.

Ok, so about Europe. It was great, we had a wonderful time. Much of it was indescribable, but never letting a challenge like that dampen my spirits, I’m determined to describe it anyways. I wrote a ton in my paper journal, and Kurt has kindly agreed to transcribe some of that in an entry for here, but there’s a lot I didn’t quite get written down as it happened, too, and I’ll have to relay all those bits as well, as I remember and get time to write it. That may mean there will end up being some repetition in the print vs. blog editions of the journal, but so be it. Skip it if it’s a snoozer, that’s what I say.

So I’ll begin with some overarching observations of the journey, I suppose. It was hot. No, hotter than whatever you just imagined when I said hot. It was unbelievably, stifling, parched in the desert looking for an oasis hot. I was constantly thirsty. We sweated our weight every day, my face broke out in about seven zillion zits from the sweat and the sunscreen and so forth. Nothing anywhere was air-conditioned. We slept only one night in air conditioning and we were gloriously blissful then, and mostly miserable trying to sleep the rest of the nights. Sophia would wake up drenched, with her hair stuck to her head, like a fevered person having a nightmare. Our pajamas were mostly unused, we couldn’t bear to have sheets over us or wear anything but underwear to sleep. They were having record high temperatures over there, and have been suffering from drought. We didn’t see rain at all except a tiny amount on the first day we were there. The rest of the time it was brilliantly clear and blazing hot. I never thought I would step out into the sauna of Mississippi summer heat and think, “Wow, this is wonderfully cool,” but on Sunday when we returned, I did. And yet, here’s something astonishing that was good to go with the heat misery. I’ve been to Europe before, but never in dead of summer, and frankly, on my previous visit it had escaped my notice that there are no mosquitoes there. None. At all. Anywhere. I don’t know why this is but it seems miraculous. I kind of thought mosquitoes were universal, native to the whole planet, like roaches. But in Europe, there are none, and it was quite nice to think when out of doors that in this same type of locale in the U.S. I’d be being eaten alive by bugs, having to wear noxious repellents and generally having less fun.

Another benefit of being in Switzerland (or anywhere on a trip, this happens to me whenever I leave home) is that I became completely disconnected from the news. I had a vague notion that we were still in Iraq and that soliders were dying, but I didn’t actually watch anything to that effect. I assumed that Liberia was still rather a hot spot, but I didn’t know it for a fact. I gathered that the US economy was still weak, but I didn’t read about it anywhere. I imagined there were a lot of celebrities getting married/divorced/rehabed but I was not certain which ones, and that was fine by me. In fact, the only television we watched at all was the music channel. I got to see Swiss rappers and a lot of boring Eurotrash pop but no headlines. It was pleasant. It’s not that I don’t like being informed, but sometimes there’s a lot of roar and noise in the news and minimal real information, and it’s nice to get broken out of your habits and disconnected, even if only for a couple of weeks.

In many of the European cities I visited I saw flags like this one :
<%image(20030812-itpace3.gif|289|217|Picture of Italian Peace Flag)%>. I assumed that it was some sort of peace flag, supporting an anti-war effort. They were everywhere, some new and vibrant but many more battered and sun-bleached. I thought they were a nice non-confrontational way to get your message across. I didn’t feel that there was anything intrinsically American hating about the gesture. After all, who can truly be against peace? It did surprise me, though, how often I saw these flags. In every building there were some hanging from the balconies, often up to half a dozen or more. Well today I looked them up, and apparently it’s an Italian anti-war campaign, entitled something like “peace from every balcony”.

<%image(20030812-logocompleto02.jpg|200|188|Italian Anti-War Campaign)%>
Not only were these pretty rainbow flags surprisingly pervasive, they were also at first a little confusing to me because they were surprisingly pervasive outside Italy. I couldn’t understand why all over northwestern Switzerland, where the dominant languages are French and Swiss German, people had flags in Italian. Still, it says something to me about the universality of the appeal of Peace, and the easy flow of ideas across borders in Europe that I saw them everywhere I went, even in Germany. I also found it strange that I hadn’t heard one single word about this campaign in American media. The first time I saw the ubiquituous “Pace” flag was when I set foot in Europe. I’ll grant you that I’m not the most news hungry person on the planet and it could be that I just missed coverage on this widespread anti-war movement. Still, it’s also possible that it’s just been ignored by the makers of news and I am never going to hear about it, no matter how widespread it becomes. Yet another reason why travel is so good for one.

Alright, then, moving on. So you may have heard tell about Switzerland and how expensive it is. No one was exaggerating, let me tell you. On our first night, we spent 6 dollars on a single eggroll. A bunch of 6 bananas cost over 3 dollars. It was insane. I had to stop thinking about how much stuff cost and just let Kurt hand over our VISA everytime we ate. That said, I think I’d love living in Switzerland, and especially in Basel. It was smallish yet very urban and everyone was very polite and extremely correct. It’s highly cultured and there’s lots to do and it’s very, very clean. There’s no loud parties in Basel. If you live in an older building with noisy pipes and flush your toilet too late at night, they’ll call the cops on you. Watering your lawn on a Sunday gets the cops called too. And having a party past 10 PM? You got it, cops show up. It may be a great indicator of what a complete lump on a log I am but I think this is great. Kurt’s relatives seem to think it’s Orwellian, but I think I see it more as an intolerance for disrespect and extreme politeness and I’d like to live somewhere where people didn’t think it was humorous to inconvenience you or where people didn’t wear their rudeness and boisterousness as a badge of pride. I may sound like a lunatic conservative, and this will be a refreshing change of pace for my normal insane liberalness, I suppose, but one of the things that having a child has made me sensitive to is the coarsening of our culture. It’s not that I care if individuals are vulgar and boorish…but as a people, I’m a little tired of the constant barrage of selfishness and distastefulness being the mainstay of our self-expression. Do we really have no better way to speak and behave towards one another? So if anyone in Basel, Switzerland is reading this and knows of a computing library or archives job and also of a unix/c programming job where they’d hire foreigners, let me know. We’re all about it.

One more comment and then I’ll post this thing…it’s taken me a couple of days to get down what I’ve gotten so far and though I’ve got plenty more to say, I have to conclude this post at some point and move on. Apparently, Europeans have not gotten the memo re: smoking. Everyone over there still smokes like a chimney. Non-smoking areas are not always available, and often the non-smoking area is much smaller than the smoking area. It made me realize how truly villified smoking is in the US and how much more ostracized smokers are here. It was kind of like stepping into a time machine and going back to an older US. People kept asking me for “Feuer”. I mostly goggled at them blankly, wondering why they thought I’d have such a thing. As a non-smoker I have to say I am very happy to be able to get away from smoke fairly easily, but I wonder if we haven’t gone overboard with some of our anti-smoking legislation. I also wonder if it’s not some kind of bait and switch, a way to misdirect our attention on this air pollutant caused by a very visible and targetable neighbor while turning our heads away from more noxious and more pervasive pollutants put out there by the less easy to single out industrial machine. Europeans are, on the whole, more environmentally minded than we are, having already despoiled a good chunk of their living space and subsequently realized they can’t always just move elsewhere as we tend to do over here. So maybe they still all smoke because they don’t care about their life expectancies. Or maybe it’s because they have a more tolerant attitude towards addictions. Or maybe they’ve seen that a little cigarette smoke is not anything to get all up in arms about. I don’t know, but I do find it interesting.

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