In my quest to entertain my sparse but much appreciated readership, not to mention my need to just get things off of my chest, I will now feature a "Topic Tuesday." The topic itself is inspired by the name of a great blog by Lyndsay called "I Used to Be Witty." Anyone who reads her knows that Lyndsay is most certainly still witty, but I digress. The title always makes me think of things I used to be - single, younger, thinner, broke, a partier, edgy - what a list! So, for as long as I can manage it, Tuesdays will be dedicated to exploring something I used to be, for better or worse.....
And, now I give you -
If It's Tuesday, I Used to Be - COOL
It's true. This did not happen in high school, or even college, really - although I desperately wished it to be so. Coolness was not easily won in my school, most especially not by someone who parked her old postal jeep behind a classmate's Porsche every morning of senior year. No, coolness came to me sometime in my mid 20s, and it happened mostly on another continent.
My parents sent me on my first summer in Europe to get me away from a boyfriend they despised. I was there with a bunch of other spoiled Americans and a few who were genuinely fun and not necessarily looking for the nearest Louis Vuitton store. It was a life changing summer - so much so that I went back the next year. This time, I knew the ropes, knew some natives, knew the best places to go, and could manage to lead everyone to the Eiffel Tower and Dachau without getting lost. And then, the real test. I came home for a few weeks and convinced Mom and Dad that I really needed to go back for an entire year. And I did.
I spent a long time in Austria, learning my way around, travelling all over, learning German. I was the only American most of my friends knew, and I almost never spoke English. For a lot of that time, I went to Northern Italy by train every weekend to visit my Italian boyfriend and his family. They were native German speakers, so we could talk to one another - but I learned my share of Italian, too. There were 3 main TV channels we watched - two in German and one in Italian. Shopkeepers usually spoke both languages, but rarely English.
During this time, I translated a PhD candidate's thesis into English. I rang in the New Year with Irish and Austrian friends atop a mountain in the Alps. I often took the train to Munich to shop for the day. I drank wine with friends while two Scots we met downtown played guitar and ate our cooking. (The wine was from a friend's backyard vinyard.) I befriended lost American tourists who were always amazed at the fact that I lived there - and spoke the language! Until they asked, most Austrians assumed I was Scandinavian. Americans, it seems, don't often learn fluent German.
I filled my passport with stamps from all over. I swam in the Aegean Sea and could see all the way to the rocky bottom. I once rode on a motorcycle through the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, and it was so cold, I could not lift my leg over the bike when we stopped for a break. We rode to Pisa, Capri, Naples and Rome, where, oddly enough, I caught Bruce Springsteen in concert. I saw Mount Vesuvius from the back of that bike. I have never been so filthy in my life as I was on that ride around the Italian autostrada.
And, during all this time, I was cool. I was cool to my European friends because I was American, from New Orleans, no less. But I was one of them, spoke their language, translated popular songs and didn't complain about the lack of cold Coke. And, I was cool to Americans, because, well - I was living in freaking Europe!
Eventually, I had to come home. I willed my belongings to friends, shipped a lot of stuff, left my snowboots at my boyfriend's and flew out of Zurich back home. My family took me out to dinner that night. I was so exhausted, I couldn't think straight. When the waiter came to take my order, I stared back blankly because I honestly couldn't remember how to order in English. What are the odds of finding a waiter who speaks German in some seafood restaurant in NOLA? Not good, but thank God for this guy! We chatted a minute about Germany and that he studied there, etc. After I ordered, I looked up to see my whole family staring at me in disbelief. "What's wrong with you people?" I say. And my brother, still staring wide-eyed, finally breaks the silence, "Damn, that was SO cool!"