Monday, September 20, 2010

California Dreaming—Re-entry

By Claire

We’re home!

Our first few days were sheer madness. Both of us were waking early, around 4:30 am, but that turned out to be the best time to get cracking on unpacking and get organized. I have to admit, I was completely unprepared (stupidly) for the enormity of getting back to our lives.

In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to my reactions to things and checking out what America is like, compared to Europe and the UK. There are definitely differences.

Cell phone usage has completely taken over people’s lives in the U.S. We really didn’t see them used to the extent they are here. And then there is the loud voice in which most Americans speak on their phones—aggravating—which leads to the issue of noise itself. I’m finding myself unable to hear most people when I’m inside a public building because of the cacaphony of sound surrounding us. PA systems, loud speaking voices, crowds of people—I’m not sure what it’s all about but I’m really noticing it.

The prices seem to be really high. Am I crazy or what? And this is in dollars, so it should seem less expensive. I’m reeling from the cost of living in California. Groceries, in particular, seem to have skyrocketed. Costco here we come. We spent $331 there on our first outing to restock our fridge and shelves. Wow.

I do feel a little dazed and confused—almost like I have just arrived in a new country. I’m having trouble understanding how things work and the money just looks strange. While this is all going on, I mourn for Europe and yet am thrilled to be home. I have yet to really appreciate having my own shower. I thought it would be a hugely big deal. I guess I got so used to using showers in campgrounds, which were quite nice most of the time, that having my own just isn’t as important as I thought it would be.

So, a big part of me is emotionally still away from home while another part of me is embracing everything here—mostly my wonderful friends. I wonder if I’ll ever get over our experience?

We spent a day in San Francisco. It was as beautiful as ever and we had gorgeous weather. Weather is something I’ve really come to appreciate here in California.

I went grocery shopping at Safeway. Are those checkers on crack? The woman was hitting those number keys and hurling the food to be bagged so fast I couldn’t keep up. Looking at the debit card reader at the checkout, I started to say, “uh, where do I punch in my phone number to show I’m a club member….?” She interrupted with, “YOU ALREADY MISSED THAT SCREEN. YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THIS!” as she continued to madly pound in the prices. I walked out stunned and exhausted.

The weather in Davis has been incredible. Blue sky, tiny perfect breeze, warm temps—just my kind of day. I’m finally finding time to sit on our back porch and read, one of my favorite activities. Meanwhile, things are mostly organized now and the things that aren’t? Well, it will happen when it happens. I’m finding myself far less stressed about where the zip lock bags are than I thought I’d be.

There is still a sense of unreality but mostly, we’re in the here and now. Chuck barbecued the other night for the first time. It was funny—he asked me where the long lighter was and I panicked trying to think where I had seen them in which box when I realized, wait, we don’t need a lighter to start the gas grill! It’s an automatic starter. We were both thinking of the gas stove in Homer.

We had grilled portabella mushrooms, eggplant and potatoes. I know, I know…there is nothing green on this plate…or any other color for that matter. It sure was good.

Our granddaughters came for a visit and when we were coming back from feeding the ducks at the Arboretum I noticed once again how beautiful it is here; I am enjoying taking in our familiar scenery, ever changing, never boring.

Interesting tree limb. Does it work out?

Sarah and Megan at the Arboretum

Megan trying out her Egyptian headdress

We’ve had dinner with friends, lunch here and there and we’re slowly reconnecting with everyone. That part is very nice. Thanks to the magic of email, I feel like we can just start up where we left off. It’s not like we weren’t in touch during our year away.

We’re definitely getting back into the swing of things here in Davis and went to the Wednesday night Farmers Market and Picnic-in-the-Park.

I guess we have just as many rules here as they have in the UK.

Mostly, I’m here and enjoying life back in California. But, my heart will always long for Europe. We’re already talking about taking a vacation from our lives here—it’s way more stressful than travel—and spending a month in the parts of France we missed. We’ll see.

By Chuck

Things I Appreciate About Being Home
I can do laundry and dry it, whenever I want; it is curious, but almost all of Europe does without clothes dryers. I believe this is due largely to the cost of both equipment and electricity. This was even true in England and Ireland, where clothes would be left out through successive periodic showers, apparently in the knowledge that sooner or later the sun and wind would be around long enough to dry your clothes.

I have access to Wifi at home 24/7; in some areas, such as Turkey and Egypt we had free or inexpensive Internet access; in other areas, such as England and Ireland, it was either unavailable or costly. We also used dongles to provide Internet access in parts of continental Europe—beginning in Vienna—and bought another for use in England and the British Isles. In addition, we finally broke down and got a pay as you go phone in England because, due to it being their high tourist season, we had to book our camping spots in advance or risk not getting a place.

I can easily walk to most stores to fill my shopping needs; if not, I can usually ride my bike. I have medical access within a short period of time to a doctor I know and trust—and I can communicate online.

I get to set my own schedule each day and I have time to get together with friends who live out of town. I am in no rush to take on new long term commitments. I don’t know how many times I have heard retired friends say, “I am so busy; I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”

I have far less resistance to watching a DVD movie or TV show in the middle of the day, now that there is more discretionary time in my day. “What do you think about watching an episode of Mad Men?” (at 3pm in the afternoon) is likely to get the response, “Yes, but you know we won’t watch only one.”

The Sacramento Causeway is beautiful—this is unexpected at this time of year. It is very green with courses of water weaving through the rushes. I had expected to find everything dry, brown and hot at the end of a Central Valley summer. Instead, it has been relatively green and mild—a relief to me, a San Francisco native and long-time resident. We drove out there, to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, to see it close up.

Clear skies with only wispy clouds floating around are a delightful change from the wet environment and hulking clouds of the British Isles. But I do miss the dramatic views. I was dumbfounded when it rained in Davis the other day. This is summer, after all!

Patience. This has always been a killer issue for me: I am neither patient with myself nor with others; this sometimes becomes especially clear when interacting with Claire. We even put a clause in our wedding vows on this topic. I have vowed to be more patient and kinder with others and with myself—to be more curious, asking questions and reflecting more; to allow myself time to answer questions that arise (or to even fail to answer.) I will even try to draw pictures to help my understanding. These days, while I am reading, I become less frustrated with myself for not understanding. It is OK to plan to skim first and then return to read with some seriousness. Hopefully, I will have the grace to let it go when repeated efforts still fail to produce understanding. I plan to begin working my way through my personal library, accepting that the osmosis theory of information acquisition does not really work—you have to get it off the shelf and into your hands to get the benefit.

I notice that, with the passage of time, I am able to sleep in more—Is this a plus or a minus? My first week back, my meditation practice went smoothly, with few annoying distractions; but, then I noticed that I became progressively more distracted during meditation. But now, three weeks into the return, my sitting meditations are more stable and there is less distracting mind chatter. I am pleased to note that I had no difficulty re-establishing a daily practice after a year of having no regular routine.

I have given myself permission to take time in getting my portion of the house resettled; normally, I would drive myself crazy with the idea that I simply had to do it as quickly as possible, while whining that I didn’t want to take time to do that when I could certainly find more enjoyable ways of spending my days. Nonetheless, I am astounded to discover how much there is to do to get settled back home.

I find that I walk a little more slowly and take in more of my surroundings than before—my version of taking the time to smell the roses. Walking down to the Wednesday afternoon and early evening Picnic-in-the-Park in Davis’ Central Park, I notice the lovely trees, the mild weather and the enthusiastic murmur of the crowd. But, that is not inconsistent with failing to pay attention to what is going on around me, often, and missing what is going on.

We knew we wanted cell phones, as we are retired and will not be sitting in an office next to a landline; as we go about our separate days, it will be nice to be able to keep in touch: “Did you remember that we are out of plain yogurt?” And, “I won’t be home for dinner until 6:30…” We splurged and got iPhones! They are pricey, but we thought that the appropriate plans were all comparably priced, not that steep, and they are VERY cool.

I downloaded a free app to be able to read my Kindle books. I belong to a monthly reading group. I am a visual person and I normally like to have the reading in front of me as we discuss it, turning to the page under discussion to read along and making marginal notations as ideas strike me. I decided to boldly strike out and try to change that pattern. Next month, I will have covered the assigned material through a combination of Kindle and iPhone reading, making any notations in a separate journal. Instead of turning to the page under discussion—very awkward to do in timely fashion in an eBook or on an iPhone—I will try listening (what a concept!) more carefully. I am curious to see how it all turns out.

Claire had been talking of wanting a new bed since before our trip. She says that you need a new one at least every ten years. I was reconciled to this move although I was still finding the current bed just fine—a combination of being a cheapskate, living on a fixed income and a desire to spend money on frills (e.g. technology) and not essentials (e.g., bed). However, a few days after returning to Davis, Claire was out with our friend, Carol, for lunch. On her way back, she walked past a mattress and bed store and decided to check it out. Thirty minutes later I received a phone call asking me to join them in considering the options; an hour later, we were walking home with pricey Tempur-Pedic pillows under our arms and the receipt for purchase of a new medium firmness memory foam mattress in our pocket. Since delivery was scheduled for two days away, next day we rushed off to Ikea to consider affordable bed frame options.

After much discussion we settled on a birch veneer queen size frame. We were so glad we thought to ask to borrow Carol’s truck for the expedition—we would never have fitted the boxes for the bed frame parts and the two end tables into either of our cars. A full day later, we had finally assembled all the parts and were ready for the mattress to be delivered.

Claire had to argue with the delivery crew to get them to take away our old box springs and mattress—whatever happened to Service Nation? Yet, the store salesperson had informed us this would be “No problem.” Well, we still aren’t sleeping through the night, but that is not the fault of the bed; we are still adjusting to the new rhythms of life as retired folk back from a year abroad. Thank goodness there are normally no pressing activities that absolutely require that we get a full night’s sleep.

U.S. Culture
In the U.S. there is much less concern regarding the amount of the paper currency you pay with or the amount of change you will get. In many parts of Europe they expect you to pay with the small bills—even though the ATMs (Bankomats over there) generally give mostly large denomination bills! Sometimes they expect exact change; yet, we had people help us convert piles of change into bills, helping them and us.

I had become so used to hearing only English spoken around me that I was shocked when I overheard two young women speaking Spanish in the SPCA thrift store, yesterday. I realized that I miss the Tower of Babel sense that we had throughout much of our travels, especially in England and Ireland—I kid you not.

I am happy to be back. I appreciate what I have—house, retirement, friends, health (for the most part). I would like to travel, again; but, it could be for a shorter time and in another mode: for example, we have talked about traveling in a small car with minimal luggage and staying in apartments with cooking facilities. Both the U.S. and selected portions of Europe are potential destinations. Stay tuned…

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. ~ Maya Angelou


Elle, in (gulp) Walnut Creek, CA said...

Ouch. Everything you wrote is correct.
And for many of us, when we try to explain how wonderful Europe is to others, it is treated as being "the not-real place-- over there." Not here. "Here" being reality to everyone who either stays here forever or goes to Europe "on vacation", thinking they've partaken of that culture. You two know that you only scratched the surface and yet you were on the road for a year... with friends in many ports.

You also know you don't need all the things/devices you thot were essential to civilized life, and now seem -- almost superfluous -- a dryer instead of a clothesline? Yeah. Actually, I always needed a dryer in the winter in Passignano.

Food is ridiculously expensive in the u.s., overall, but there are some bargains and some rip-offs, just like everywhere. You have to remember the places you knew and loved before, the farmer's mkt, ect.
What I wouldn't give for a roasted corn-on-cob from a Corfu vendor at an outrageous Euro 2/apiece (used to be E 1.50) vs the 3-for-a-dollar but soggy corn from Safeway. The produce employee said they'd sat for too long, so got soggy under ice. Jeez. And actually, hell I'm a grown-up -- what I wouldn't give for the Greek I lived with that August because I was really alive the whole time we were together. Being really alive instead of in robot-mode is a concept most Amerikans will think is utterly wild or scandalous!
You two are more sanctioned/approved b/c at least you strike out on the unbeaten trail as a couple.

The main thing is to be together in all you do. This is everything. I re-connected today with a friend from 37 THIRTY SEVEN years ago, a college associate still on the East Coast living a "normal life", and I realize the risks we take are what made and still make us feel truly alive. I hope the Divine Surplus continues to provide ways for all of us to con't our life travels!

I've reconsidered selling my place in Passignano, realizing that the rat-race here which drove me to seek solace in Italy is even worse now than it was in 2004-5. My tiny abode is a rare gem in a world of rude super mkt checkers and "NEXT!"
Before leaving, I traded my bicycle for work done by my electrician, Alvaro, a man I've known for a decade. He put up a tapestry and did some work for me,a few years ago, at no cost. Here? I will never trade anything but ugly money.

I feel your discomfort, but it's also very clean and spacious where we now live. And fundamentally, we all live within our skin, within the roughly 2 meters of protoplasm which the Universe granted us this time around.
The U.S. has Yankee Ingenuity and THINGS WORK! It has offspring and grandchildren. And there's a program -- the name escapes me but I'll bet you know it -- where you trade time in your home, for time in someone else's home overseas. And you already guessed what was going to be my suggestion: to stay in apts in various cities -- Roma, Paris, London --for less cost & repair aggravation than you achieved w/ Homer.
The latter made for great stories, though, and bonded you both to a way of life that you can rightfully miss. Ouch, again. As we always, always said in Passignano: "Life is good, but life is hard. But it is ... good."

Till we meet again, my friends,

Natasha Yannacañedo said...

I LOVED reading all of this-VERY COOL. Coming back from Peru it was very interesting comparing the different ways of life. It IS ANNOYING how North Americans are so loud and obsessed with their cell phones!! And I can not imagine you walking slower dad! I get my fast NY walk from you-Maia and I get s#it from others ALL the time over it LOL. Glad yall are back!

Karin said...

Hi Chuck, Hi Claire!
This was a very interesting blog! I appreciate your taking the time to let people know of your
"re-entry" observations, thoughts and feelings.

I liken it to when an exchange student comes home after a year abroad. Changed, open to all kinds of experiences, glad to back home but still with a longing desire to go back, etc. etc.

I have recently been wondering if we could happily live in the States after being gone for 14 years. I do miss some things yet am also content to be in Europe. I know if I left I would miss it terribly and yet....

I hope you feel comfortable very soon, and I also hope you do take that trip to France! And if we are in Prague the year of 2011 (hopefully for a year) then maybe you can stop by and visit us (although I know you have "been there and done that")!

Thanks again for sharing.
We will keep in touch,
Karin on Paros

Chuck and Claire said...

We were surprised to hear that you even considered selling your place in Passignano; I think you will be happy with the decision to keep it, if that's what you end up doing. Cheers!

Chuck and Claire said...

We are both fast walkers; the slower is only relative; sorry, you inherited the anti-social pace. It is good to be back.

Chuck and Claire said...

The adjustment is going fairly smoothly; it is just not fast--and that is OK.
We had already discussed Elle's suggestion re a home exchange; but, a small apartment for a week or more at a location might work well, too. Cheers!