I love Europe, I really do. I have had a strange and volatile love affair with this place since I first came here at fifteen years old. He charmed me with his architecture and ancientness. He made me feel like I could be fancy, too, if I really tried. He also kind of made me feel bad about myself, like I was too wild to tame because I prefer my feet bare and my hair uncombed.
While my association with Europe, Belgium in particular, is like a torrid love affair, my connection with my homeland is more appropriately described as a strained mother/daughter thing. Well, it was strained. In the last couple of years my green, northern west coast mother and I have worked things out. We've developed an understanding, but I'll get to that in a bit.
First let me get out the details of the temepestuous nature of my "relationship" with this cold, northern place. They aren't negative, the things I have to say about Belgium. It isn't that Belgium isn't amazingly cultural and creative, it is. Belgium is also beautiful, complex and strong. What it boils down to is that as much as I love it here, it becomes an emotional strain to have to force a bond when the glue won't set.
I've encountered some strange things here. For instance, just yesterday I was on the tram when an elderly woman sat next to me and proceeded to sniff my face. I was chewing gum, so I know my breath was minty-fresh. I had showered, so I know my body smelled fine. She just...she just sniffed me! Yes, I'm aware that I could have been sniffed anywhere, so maybe that example is poor, or maybe I just wanted to tell you about the sniffing incident and that seemed like a good place to get it in, I don't know.
To be honest, the more I think about it, the more I see that this doesn't have as much to do with Belgium as it has to do with the cables that bind me to my west coast mama. Notice that I don't say Visalia or even California. It isn't California, it's something else. It's my enormous conifers, my majestic mountain ranges; it's my dirt. It's that stuff my mom calls 'bear grass'. It's a smell, the way the air feels. My pacific northwest mother has given me the gift of realization. I wanted so badly to escape her grasp on me and so she let me go. She let me fly away from her nest and now I see how beautiful she is both up close and from a distance, and how I could never belong anywhere but there. The truth is this: my America doesn't have anything to do with the government, the cost of insurance or some ignorant people that she nor I have any control over. My America has everything to with the dirt I dug in as a child, the animals I watched during summer camping trips in Yosemite and Oregon, and the native peoples that created the trails for me to find my way down.
What a gift this realization has been!
I'm really trying to enjoy the rest of the time I have here. There is snow on the ground; it lays gently in the bare branches of the thin-trunked trees that grow here. The people are wearing their prettiest coats and gloves. When the sun rises and sets, there is a lovely orangey glow in the sky that I can never get over. I finally have an actual reason to wear a beanie. It is inspiring here, and all good food for the novel I'm writing. I'll soak it all up while I'm here, and I'll miss it when I'm gone. I know my dirt will still be there when I return, my dirt, trees and bear grass.