Saturday, March 8, 2008

In Which I Consider Home

Temperature: +3C! Columbus, Ohio is colder today.
Snow: Streets are clean but there is some. Again, I hear Columbus, Ohio has 14 inches.
What I Am Reading: Just finished Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse, which was charming. Now reading Random Acts of Heroic Love, which takes place between Budapest and Krakow (I know! Do the math!) and Siberia. It’s not bad.

The kids had two weeks of school holiday, so I booked us a flight to Bratislava.

Yeah. I know.

I never thought, in a million years, that I would consider Bratislava a vacation destination.

But as the plane circled over Burgenland in preparation for landing in Vienna, I thought, “Home!” and even got a little weepy. Sometimes I think it’s not Slovakia I miss as much as Austria.

The trip was easy and reasonably priced. I booked us on FlyNiki, and the girls and I traveled to Vienna for about $600. The hardest part, and it wasn’t that hard, was getting from our house to the airport. We walked out of our apartment to the Metro. We went one stop and changed lines. Then we went three stops and switched to the Airport Express train. Train tickets for the three of us were about $15. No traffic. Just 50 minutes directly from the train station to the airport. A lot cheaper and faster than taking a taxi.

My Wonderful Russian Girlfriend was waiting at the airport in Vienna and drove us to Bratislava. My Russian cell phone did not work outside the Russian Federation, so I swapped my Russian SIM card for my Slovak one. BINGO! I have a working cell phone. The nearest ATM = credit on phone. I’m in touch, baby.

The next week was a blur of visits with people who were so happy to see me. Thursday was a prime example. Skittles had an extended sleepover with a friend, so Baboo and I went to see my wonderful friend, Jarmila, for lunch. She says, “Oh, you’re not driving, are you!” and opens a bottle of wine at 11:30 in the a.m. We ate lunch, and then lounged in the sunshine beside her goldfish pond, drinking wine and talking while Baboo ran around, chased the various house dogs, and played dress up. I am sure there was a second bottle of wine and time in the sauna, but I can't say for sure.

Then we went to visit Wonderful Russian Girlfriend who said, “Oh, you’re not driving, are you!” and opened a bottle of champagne.

I swear, I had only one, tiny glass before her husband came home from work and announced, “This bottle is empty!” before opening a second bottle. By the end of dinner, I was holding a hand over one eye so I could focus. Collapsed into bed before repeating the same thing again for the next six days.

It was so easy being in Bratislava. I know where everything is. I can call a taxi and say where I want the car to meet me. On Monday, we had lunch with Pani Babka, my former neighbor. We stopped at Orchidea, my favorite flower shop, to buy her a hostess gift. As I handed my selection to the clerk, she said, “Is this for your home? Or is it a gift?” In Slovak. And I understood EVERY WORD. (The Spouse later asked me if ten years ago I ever imagined, in my wildest dreams, that ten years in the future I would understand when someone asked me, in Slovak, “Is this for your home? Or is it a gift?” Um, no.)

All of which caused me to feel adrift. Talking to the Spouse on the phone one day, I whined about how I no longer belonged in Bratislava, yet I hadn’t quite made Moscow home.

“But when we lived in Bratislava, you always said you didn’t belong there either!” The Spouse was incredulous.

Oh. Yeah. I remember saying that.

I also remember moving, in 1988, from Athens, Ohio, the small college town where I spend eight happy years, to Columbus, Ohio, where I grew up and had family. In spite of much stronger links to Columbus, I remember feeling homesick for Athens, a town only 75 miles away.

Additionally, I remember a friend telling me about her mother’s funeral. The woman had lived in a Cleveland suburb for her entire life. The church was filled to capacity, with many people crowded outside, waiting for a chance to pay their respects. I was impressed with this: having roots, a place in the community. This woman was loved and missed when she passed away.

I could never have a funeral like hers, if only because my friends are scattered around the world.

When I mentioned this in Bratislava, my friends there raised an eyebrow at my gloomy outlook. “Do you really spend time considering your funeral?” they asked.

Um, no. Not really. Since, frankly, when my funeral takes place I won’t really care, will I? But it is an interesting thought: roots versus adventure. Is one more valuable than the other? I don’t know.


worthy said...

HI Sis, You do have roots, very deep ones here in Ohio. But like a great oak you are branching out and that is great. I am more like a firmly rooted cedar.

When we are all dead they can bury us in gardens and toss us in rivers and streams...

Meanwhile we keep flourishing...


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