Where the heart is

I called my mom at the Portland airport, after check in and before security, to say farewell and thank you. In true mom fashion, she made me cry by asking just the right question, "What was this trip for you? Was it better than you thought, worse than you thought, more difficult, more fun....?" [shout out to the Meemz!]

I cried because my answer is this: My trip home was perfect. Perhaps it was because I was just happy to be in the room and didn't arrive with any expectations to speak of. Perhaps it was because I appreciate my friends and family and the idea of home more than I have in the past. Perhaps it was because Christmas is better when you get to be with the people you love. But no matter what the extenuating circumstances might have been, I am so, so, SO filled with happiness and gratitude right now.

The support that I have in Portland sustained me through some rough patches in my first six months, and I am certain that I will return to that well again at points in the next six, and the next and the next. I am so blessed with smart, funny, caring and compassionate friends who make me laugh and encourage me to buy shoes one minute and honor me by sharing the details of their lives the next. Though my experiences in Europe may have a luckiest girl quality about them, my real luck is having such amazing people in my life.


A Christmas reminder

Some dear friends have been trying to adopt a baby this year and were all
set to bring home a baby this week.
A lovely Christmas present, no?
Only the birth mother changed her mind at the last minute.
This isn't
the time of year to shake your fist at the heavens and question the fairness
of it all, but geez. Since they are far better people than I am,
I thought
I would share part of the gracious note that they sent out. They are a
class act and will be amazing parents.

...the final thing I want to share with you is the hope that this Christmas,
what just happened to us might give you the perspective to love your own
family just a little more this year.

Most people go through their lives assuming that having a family is a
natural thing. Hey, guess what? It's not. It's hard fought and won. It's
rare and precious and unfairly fragile. It has nothing to do with
determination and everything to do with luck. I don't care if it's
just you and your spouse; if your ex gets the kids on Christmas Eve and you
don't get them until New Year's; if your kids are grown and strewn all over the
country; if your babies are driving you batshit crazy, fighting over the better
presents; if there are so many of you at dinner you have to cook two
turkeys; or if your normal routine is to just sit there, silently chewing and
counting the minutes until you can leave. Whatever you have -
whether you're the Bradys or the Bundys - take stock in your luck and love it
just a little more this year.

It'll be fun.


It will be a late night

I am watching "100 Greatest Hits of the 80's" on MTV while sitting in my apartment and loving the countdown even more because it is so out of context. The world is so small. And my bangs are exactly like Martin Fry's. I won't be sleeping for a while.



What a lovely day I had on Saturday. I took the 8am train and had a nice visit with the woman sitting next to me. She has been a flight attendant for 37 years and had some very interesting thoughts on other cultures (she told me I should leave the Netherlands as soon as possible. "You don't want to stay here. The Dutch aren't good to live around.").

The Cologne Cathedral is amazing and of all the churches I have visited so far, it was the place I felt most comfortable. It lacked the splendor and over-the-topness of the Spanish cathedrals, which is probably the outcome of a cathedral being built in the midst of 600 years of shifting city-states, empires and principalities versus 600 years of solid Catholic influence above all else. But the scale is amazing and the stained-glass windows were beautiful and I loved the vaulting (because I am the world's biggest dork).

The Ludwig Museum. Can I say for the record that I have seen more amazing art in the six months that I have lived here than I have ever seen before. And I have seen me some art in my life. The 20th century collection is absolutely amazing. The best part of viewing modern and contemporary art is watching the other people viewing the art. Some of them are jazzed to be there and react to the pieces in some way -- even if it is a look and a quizzical head tilt -- but they soak it all in. The other group is there because they think they are supposed to be there and spend their time only looking at artists they have heard of before ("Where are the Piccasso's?") and dismissing the rest. Modern art isn't for everyone. Some people are moved by a still life where a bouquet is rendered in exact detail and the craftsmanship is apparent. Those people might not be impressed by a solid field of red on a giant canvas, and they shouldn't have to be -- let's face it, Abstract Expressionists, as cool as it is to like them, ain't for everyone. Anyway. The collection was incredible and I walked through it with a giant grin on my face. I saw so many amazing pieces -- it blew my mind.

The Christmas market was very crowded with my favorite group, the Brits. Despite them, I enjoyed a mug of mulled wine and happily wandered amongst the booths. Didn't stay too long, as after a point it got a little too twee for me.

Seeing the architecture of the city really brought the reality of the war home to me. Not that they didn't deserve to be bombed to bits, but you see how everything (EVERYTHING) was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately it was rebuilt in the ubiquitous inexpensive Bauhaus style also popular in the US in the 50s and 60s. No modernist sensibility about it -- this is all function and no form.

The last two hours before my train were spent in a bar next to the station, sipping whiskey while looking at a view of the cathedral and listening to American Christmas music played over the speakers. John Denver's "Away in a Manger" never sounded so good. The bar was very 1920s (wood paneling, high ceilings, waiters in tuxedos) and I know that it was once the meeting point of Nazi officers waiting to catch their trains. That was strange but also real. Something about being in that environment made me think of that period with a certain amount of historic distance, which, if you know me at all, is a ton better than the bitter personal attack perspective that I typically filter all thoughts of Germany in general and that time in particular, through.

Great trip. I'll go back to Germany again. And I am coming home in FOUR DAYS!!!!!


My eyebrows are eating my face!

Fear not, young readers, my face isn't being eaten by wooly caterpillars, but merely surviving a plucking moratorium in anticipation of my upcoming trip home. I have started packing and am getting very excited to fly away for a few weeks of serious goodness (friends, family, familiarity, places, speaking flag-waving-apple-pie-and-baseball English, weak dollar against the Euro, holidays, visit from my boyfriend, Black Butte, presents given, presents received, who's a lucky girl?).

I went shopping in Antwerp with my friend Alison yesterday. We caught the 7:23 train and were there just after 9:00. Very fun and fruitful, and, yes, I made us stop walking so I could say, "Take a second and think about how cool it is that, instead of doing chores or running errands, we are shopping. IN BELGIUM."

This morning I met Melanie and Guy for a trip to the flea market in the North. It was good, though not quite as good as the last time I went. I bought some Christmas presents for folks and another piece of pottery for my house. And a squirrel figurine, which might be too campy to keep.