Saturday, January 31, 2009

I don't think Kansas is on the radar anymore Toto...

So I knew that living in Costa Rica was going to be "different" but I didn't realize just how different it was going to be until I saw a cockroach in my bathroom. (Which, upon reflection, I think those guys get a bad rap. I mean they don't really DO anything except maybe be gross - they don't bite, they won't kill you - they're just big. I think it's all societal conditioning that makes us hate cockroaches so much. But in reality, we're just jealous that they would survive a nuclear holocaust and we, sadly, would not.


If you've ever read David Sedaris' "Me Talk Pretty One Day," you've read a pretty accurate description of what it's like learning a language in a foreign country. Basically, he's describing the group of us on this study abroad program. I'm sure I muddle up the language quite nicely, mixing present-tense verbs into past-tense narrations when I can't remember how to conjugate in the imperfect, or assigning the wrong gender to certain words. (Like things have genders. HA!)

But my favorite part is how brilliantly I manage to screw up the simple act of listening. I mean, it's not really that hard. In fact, it is so natural that to NOT listen to someone is difficult.
Unless you are me. I can sit and listen to someone speaking to me, and, while still comprehending that they are speaking Spanish at me, I can fully stop listening to anything but the general sound of that person speaking Spanish.
When asked a question, I generally tend to answer a completely different one.
When not asked a question, I'll answer one anyway.
When asked to do something, I nod my head yes, just the same as I do for everything else, and continue to not do whatever I was asked to do.
I have had entire conversations that were wrong. Yes, a wrong conversation. How can a conversation be "wrong," you ask? Well, when you use the wrong word, the whole thing is out of context and goes completely to pot. My host sister and I discussed driving last night, and the whole time I was assuming that we were talking about concerts.

Then there's fun in being outside a conversation. Listening in to try and glean more Spanish experience will only take you so far, especially when you have those magpie tendencies: "Ooh! I just heard the word 'matrimonio!' I know that that means! They are talking about marriage! I've found the track again!" But by the time my brain has comprehended that I comprehend, the conversation has moved on to motor oil and I have to start the whole process over again.

The best is when you are asked a ridiculously easy question by someone with a strong accent, and have to ask them to repeat it five or six times before someone else answers for you.
"She's 20 years old."
Ah. They were asking how old I am. Great.

The conversations that I end up having with my host sister or my host mother that actually last longer than six sentences, are always inane. I spent probably 15 minutes last night explaining 'ravioli' to a pair of girls who probably knew what I was talking about considering they knew what "cannoli" and "lasagna" are, but were most likely humoring me.

And yet... it doesn't feel too different from home...

They say that within two weeks my Spanish will have gotten ridiculously better. I've been here two days, but it feels like two weeks already. Does that count?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ah, inspiration, there you are.

So I'm traveling again. Which means I'm blogging with purpose again (as opposed to slapping some random rant up here in an attempt to please you, my loyal readers.)

Well, let's just hope it's coherent.

My flight last night was at 11:45 pm. I slept(ish) for most of it, though I was in the middle seat so it was mostly in a hunched over sort of position. Very uncomfortable. I had to haul it in the Miami airport on what the agent had called "a five minute walk" it was not. It was much more like a 30 minute hike. I mean, what with the weights I was carrying and the awkward way they forced me to hustle, I think I got more of a work out than I do when I work out with my mom. And that's saying something.

I've never flown over the Gulf of Mexico before, and let me tell you, it was breathtaking. There is this rainbow sheen reflecting off the crystalline blue water underneath a few puffy white clouds.

At least it was breathtaking, until I fell asleep again. I just can't seem to stay awake in transit unless I'm the one driving.

So after a gorgeous descent into the lush green of the rainforested country, and a lively talk with my cab driver, I'm sitting in the lobby of the Marriott, hungry, tired and oddly detached.

I mean, it's unreal how beautiful it is here. The hotel is painted that adobe reddish brown and there is a pool tiled in deep blue outside wrought iron gates and surrounded by lush green palms and bright pink flowers. The light in here, thrown form wrought iron chandeliers is yellow and adds to the warmth already provided by the hearty wood beaming and wood floors.

I have a feeling that San Jose is going to present itself as a peculiar set of contrasts. Perhaps I'll think this over more in the Hooters across the street. I may just have a hankering for some hot wings.

But this feeling of detachment is odd. I can speak Spanish, pretty well, actually, but I still feel like I'm intruding. It was fine talking one-on-one with the taxi driver, but sitting here in the lobby, surrounded by a very large Spanish/English language speaking family, I feel isolated. I can understand them, but I don't know if they assume that I can or if they assume that I can't. So I've taken up my natural post as observer.

That's it. No more for me. I can't think. I want to take a nap.

Hasta la proxima vez.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Spitzbuben. Always.

The best thing about spontaneous trips is that, due to their immediate nature, you don't have to deal with the three days before you leave. The three long, agonizing days prior to departure are the worst part about traveling.

They are the days when you should be packing. You should be preparing, but you still have time left, so you can easily put it off. You have so much to take care of, so many ends to tie up, so much to do and to get... but you still have three days to do it in. It's too far away to excite the butterflies in your stomach, but too close to ignore. You can't start any big new projects because you won't be able to finish them, but you've probably finished any projects you were working on; after all, you know that you're leaving soon.

So what do you do?

Well, knowing you, you probably watch tv. You probably pull out your bags with every good intention of packing, and you probably stare at them for prolonged periods of time in a battle of the wills. Looser has to pack. (Luckily, you manage to beat the luggage for a good long time, and they remain sadly unpacked.) You probably think about going to see the places that you cherish and you know you'll miss when you're gone. You may go see them, you may not. You probably spend long periods of time staring out the window and call it "preparing yourself mentally."

Unless you don't. You don't because you're one of those people who actually does pack three days before leaving. But that doesn't save you from those 3 ultimate days. Because even if you're all packed, especially if you're already packed, you have that much more time to worry about what you forgot. That much more time to re-pack. To add clothes, to subtract clothes, to re-organize. To research the up-to-the-minute weather to make SURE you've got the correct clothing. Which really only ends up stressing you out for three days, instead of 6 hours.

Me? I'm making spitzbuben.

As always.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's been a while...

As trite a statement as it may be, life is full of ups and downs.
(I searched for a good famous person quote about that for about 5 minutes but then I got bored, so you will have to make do with the cliche.)

It amuses me that in retrospect, things either seem much better than they were, or the distance and big picture allows you to see that things were actually much worse than you let yourself believe.

I tend to be tenaciously optimistic, but lately things have been piling up and the blues have come around again. I like to think its mostly dealing with culture-shock, reverse culture-shock and my various medical conditions that have got me down.

So instead of going with my mom on our uphill hike today, I turned and jogged along the flat path. It was nice to let my defeat pound out beneath my feet and feel the glow of the orange afternoon sun as it slung low in the sky. This spring weather has given me the greatest gift of seeing and experiencing my favorite place during my favorite time of year. It's when the skies are so clear and blue that the grass seems crisper, glossier and greener and when the mixture of warmth and coolness in the air feels just like drinking ice water.

And as I powered up the hill towards the end, I was most excited to see my oak tree. You see, when we first moved to the house we're in now, I was in high school. Since I was in 6th grade, we'd been uprooted searching for and then building the nest that my parents had always dreamed of. Not to mention the three or four times we had moved before I entered 1st grade. So I guess I was feeling adrift. I desperately wanted a place, all my own to feel attached to, and wandered up into the hills to find it. And I certainly did.

I remember the first day I found that tree. It was one of those early summer days where everything is held out in sharp relief. I wandered purposefully off the path and was confronted with this massive oak tree. Not only did it provide a vast amount of much needed shade, and not only were its branches perfectly big enough to nap on without falling off, but it was perched perfectly towards the top of the hill to afford a magnificent view of the San Francisco Bay Area.

That tree was where I went to be alone. It was the place I truly felt connected with nature and my surroundings. It was where I lay, five feet above the ground and day dreamed about adventures, first loves and the future. I literally imagined coming back to that very spot as the years passed and the tree and I grew, and lying on that same giant branch and remembering fondly those daydream days in high school.

It was the first place my mind flashed to when people asked me to recall my favorite place in the world. I may have already told you about it.

So today I eagerly rounded the corner and played mountain goat up the side of the hill and as I reached the top I looked around at the unfamiliar landscape in confusion. Then the realization came crashing down on me that the tree had fallen. Five of it's magnificent seven branches had cracked from the trunk, leaving only two, low hanging branches surviving. Instead of a grand canopy, the highest point of the tree is now a severed limb that sticks up in the air, blackened and splintered.

I cried under the shelter of the branches that interlocked as they fell until I heard passersby approaching, whereupon I stared dumbly out across the bay for another while.

And unbidden, the first verse and chorus of a song I used to sing when I was in youth chorus, lo those many years ago, started in my head, and on my lips:

In the quiet misty morning when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing and the sky is clear and red.
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming,
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning,
I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow.

Which seemed to me, suddenly, metaphoric. The Bay Area has this strange hold on me, it's like a comfort blanket. I know what I want to do in life and I know that to do it, I need to go. But it's so much easier and so comfortable to just stay right here where I'm safe and relaxed. It's especially hard to tear myself away now, when I'm navigating a slightly difficult time.

I need to let go and go because I have the rest of my life to be here

As as to that? I leave for Costa Rica in 13 days. I'll be there for 7 months - the longest I will have stayed in one place since I was a junior in high school.

(The song from above is called "Homeward Bound." It's written by Marta Keene. The entire song is as follows:
In the quiet misty morning when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing and the sky is clear and red.
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming,
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning,
I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow.

If you find it’s me you're missing, if you’re hoping I’ll return.
To your thoughts I’ll soon be list’ning, and in the road I’ll stop and turn.
Then the wind will set me racing as my journey nears its end.
And the path I’ll be retracing when I’m homeward bound again.

Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow.

In the quiet misty morning when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing,
I’ll be homeward bound again.)