Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Shock Therapy September 5, 2008

Thun (the town where I lived in Switzerland) was every bit as beautiful as I remembered

Thun (the town where I lived in Switzerland) was every bit as beautiful as I remembered

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, but part of the reason I’m on this journey – a big part of the reason, actually – is because I’m writing a book. The book, however, is nothing like this blog. It’s a fictionalized account of the last time I did this trip (or, more accurately, the period of the trip that I developed kidney stones, became incredibly ill in Switzerland, and fell in love with the man who took care of me. Actually, those tidbits are still just a small part of the story, but you get the drift).

Anyway, I had the idea that it might help me remember what it was like fifteen years ago and tell the story with more emotion – and perhaps weave in the perspective of being definitely older and hopefully wiser – if I went back and retraced my steps. Not to drone on and bore you with the details of a book you can’t read (yet), but I will add that there is a second story line about the trip I am on now. That was something I didn’t anticipate writing, but which seems to be working.

So a few nights ago (a week ago?) in that awful room in Madrid, I watched an episode of House on YouTube. It seemed to be a two-parter and I tuned in for part two, but the general gist was be that House had been in an accident of some kind, had a heart attack as a result, and couldn’t remember what had happened. Eventually, he realized that one of the other doctors was involved, but the details eluded him. At the end of the episode I watched, they decided to drill a hole in House’s head in order to send electricity directly into the cerebral cortex or some similar part of your brain that holds memories. With enough of a jolt, his memory came back.

For a while I lived in the basement of the house on the far left

For a while, I lived in the basement of the little house one from the right

Although a slightly less dangerous approach, the last two days in Switzerland have been the equivalent. I have never felt so emotionally overwhelmed by a scent, remembered so many small details about the way someone walked or talked or smiled, been moved to such intense emotion over the mere sight of a place, or slept so poorly in my whole life. I think I’m in information and stimulus overload. I have had a virtual shock therapy performed on my brain.

Add that to my general schedule. In contrast to the slow travel movement, wherein you might go to, say, Florence and stay there a week and then drive two hours south into Tuscany and stay there two more weeks, and slowly progress such that thirteen weeks pass in just Italy, I have developed a ‘two night rule.’ Generally speaking, I stay in any given town for two nights (planned exceptions for slightly longer include Rome, Vienna, and a couple Greek islands).

There are three reasons for this:

  1. When I made this trip in 1992/1993, I had no money and a Eurail pass. As a result, I would show up at the train station around 22:00., figure out what were the overnight trains and get on one. The next day I would store my luggage, tour that town, and repeat the process. I don’t think I could survive that schedule again. I don’t even want to try. However, in the spirit of my original journey, I am a rolling stone.

  2. Spending days and days sampling the restaurants of London, strolling the bridges of Prague, and shopping the boutiques of Paris is wonderful if you have disposable income and a friend or lover by your side. When you have neither, it’s much easier to evade loneliness and homesicknesses – or just plain old moments of misplaced jealousy at the sight of happy couples or laughing friends – with new stimuli (i.e. a new place). I have nothing against that type of travel (in fact, there are quite a few days it sounds damn good), that’s just not what this trip is about for me.

  3. They call it ‘travel’ for a reason! The train time is good for writing and thinking – after a full day of taking in a city or (more recently) crawling through the ashes of my own past – I relish the time to process my thoughts and just breathe.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that moving every few days exacerbates the culture shock. I get attached to the soda bread of Ireland, but get cut off. I develop a real zeal for the sardine-stuffed olives of Spain…and then they’re gone. I trade them in for fresh baguettes and brie at bargain prices, when suddenly there’s nothing but dense grainy breads and Gruyère cheese.

The Jungfrau (happily, not completely covered in clouds for once!)

The Jungfrau (happily, not completely covered in clouds for once!)

Similarly, just when I get used to saying, ‘Abrigado’, it becomes ‘Gracias.” I no longer have to remember whether it’s day or night, as now I’m back to saying “Grüezi” at all hours like I did 15 years ago. And as I adjust to ‘S’il vous plait’ it turns into ‘Bitte.’ For some unfathomable reason, I have resorted to saying, “Scusi” as my multi-cultural “excuse me.” Every time it pops out of my mouth, I briefly stop just to check that some miracle hasn’t occurred and maybe now I’m fluent in something besides English? No such luck. Apparently the “scusi” is just my poor, overwhelmed brains attempt to do some advanced prep work for Italy in a few weeks?

There is a lady standing by the seat where I’m sitting on the train from Zürich to München, just staring at me. Very weird moment here, folks. I’ve smiled at her a couple times and said, “Hi” (when in doubt, I just speak obvious American English to make it clear I’m not going to understand much anything else) to no avail. If I had to guess, I’d say it was fascination with my mini-computer. That or my captivating smile. Who knows?

Meanwhile, in a couple days (Sunday), I’m supposed to have free wifi in the room. If that works out, I’ll backtrack and add a bunch of pictures for your viewing pleasure. Meanwhile, wish me a couple dreamless nights to get myself back together. Gute nacht and viel glück!

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