Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…

So last Friday, I landed in Detroit on my way into the US, land of the million ways to spend your money. I walked through the airport, grinning with delight at the sheer number of choices for food and novelty items, it felt so homey. Whereas the Frankfurt airport had one measly coffee cart serving vending machine coffee (yuck!), suddenly there were ‘freshly brewed’ signs wherever I turned my head. I literally had to stop in my tracks just to take it all in before deciding my next move.

It wasn’t too hard, though, once I saw the Starbucks. I ordered a latte and found myself counting out exact change for the drink. Then laughed at myself, cause it was so ghetto. 

Every time I come back, I end up noticing the oddest things, which would never have entered my radar before now. For example, coming through immigration, the signs are no longer translated into French, German, and Spanish, but are now given in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish.. in that order. Or like my grandparents’ neighbors who put up horrid bright green artificial grass in their front yard, ostensibly to ensure ease of maintenance. And the disturbing attitudes of people discussing online about the man who is suing Apple for violating California labor laws by forcing encouraging their employees to work evenings, weekends and vacation without overtime. Saying things like, “Nobody made that guy do squat. For 12 years. He was free to choose another line of work any time.” or “Give him some cheese with his wine.” which make me wonder how things could have gone so wrong.

For all the little things are familiar, home feels less and less like home these days.

The Season’s A-Changin’

This morning I went down to my car to bring up the boxes of belongings I had picked up during my trip. I was looking for that soft throw blanket I had packed away. As I walked through the courtyard in shorts and a t-shirt, the sky was a mighty blue, the leaves were green and fluttering gently in a rather cool breeze, and the air smelled fresh and sweet. I can feel it. Christmas is coming.

Twinkle Toes

I have always been a lover of dance. I was the one who borrowed dvds of ballet performances from the library to watch on the weekends, the first to sign up for dances bretonnes at the lycée and the quickest to pick up the steps, the one who hunted for the Fest Noz fliers, and the one who calls up the others for Sunday night salsa at Havanna. I especially love the kinds of dances that require you to understand something about how they work and how one works with another in order to dance them well (as opposed to individual freestyle jiggling such as can be found in hip-hop).

I took up salsa this past year by chance. I was invited to a salsa club only five minutes away from my flat back in December, and from then on, I used to go fairly regularly and it has become a part of my life.

Which was why I decided to venture out into the big valley of silicon last Thursday evening to try out salsa on my home turf.

At Alberto’s in Mountain View, on Thursday nights, they have a beginner’s class followed by an intermediate class and a dance party, all for the same $10 entrance fee. There was an incredible number of people, and I was surprised by the factor of men outnumbering the women. There was no need for a partner; the women made up an inner circle and the men fought their way in to dance each time the instructor cried ‘switch!’

Still, I couldn’t help but notice a few things:

In France, when my friend and I would go out dancing, we always tried to maintain the ‘three-dance’ policy, which stated that one should not dance more than three times with the same guy. The consequences of breaking this rule usually fall along the lines of the guy trying to buy you a drink and shouting over the din, “whaddya say we get outta here?”

In Germany, you never dance more than three times with a guy in the same set (in a row), but you may dance again with him later in the evening without fear of being hit on. But you should never dance only once with a guy if you enjoy it: leaving the guy (or him leaving you) after one dance means that the dancing was terrible for one or both of you, and you will probably not be asked again. Also, it is best not to ask a guy to dance unless you have seen him dance before. This is because you run the risk of his saying yes only to hit on you, and wind up looking like idiots on the dance floor because he really has no idea what he is doing.

In the East Bay, you may ask a guy (which seems to be the best strategy) if he does not ask you, but you only dance once in a set. You can dance with him again during the evening, but here, the three-dance rule applies. It is also quite nice to dance in California as we have smoke-free bars, which makes it a lot less sleazy and you don’t have to go home with cigarette-scented hair.

In two weeks I will drive down to San Diego for their first annual salsa festival, and I am looking forward to it, armed as I am now with these little hints.

The Don-Qué Rendez-vous

Last Friday night, I met up for coffee with some friends in the area who I hadn’t seen in some years. Meeting up for coffee with friends in the area in California, however, is not the same as meeting up for coffee with friends in Germany or France. In Germany, my friends in the area would step down into the street and turn a corner to sit in Ubu Roi, or hop on the bus if they live out in the boonies, such as near campus. In California, my friends in the area and I each had a thirty-minute drive by car, and we met at the Starbucks in Palo Alto (a few cities up) as a half-way point.

And having coffee with friends in California is not the same as having coffee with friends in Germany or France. We grabbed our various flavors of icey frappaccinos to go. And then we went out to find a donkey.

One makes many friends in one’s lifetime, but none equal the friends you make while growing up. Because you don’t typically make those kinds of friends based on common interests. You make those kinds of friends because they’re there, and because someone has a two-door Honda, and the beach is just down the street, and we might as well all pile in and go there.

Many years later, outsiders can only guess what a med student in Poland, a software engineer at E.A., a civil engineer in Monterey, and a polyglot globetrotter have in common. Nothing, really. Except that when we get together, everything is just so damn funny. And we say goofy things like, “So, ya wanna see the Don-qué?” and I say, “What is that, like a Don Qui-jo-té?” and then we hop into someone’s car and end up somewhere in the middle of Palo Alto, petting a donkey.

Two donkeys in fact. And two goats. There was a third donkey, but apparently some drugged-out kids in the area thought it was funny to share their shit, and the donkey over-dosed. We gave them carrots and watched them roll around in the dirt under the moonlight, as we sipped our frappaccinos. While driving home that night, I smiled as our Carmel-cruising song came up, from Chumbawumba, ‘We’ll be singing… when we’re winning…’

Apple Lore

While sitting down to late afternoon tea last Wednesday, I listened idly to the various exchanges of my fellow colleagues as they began to reminisce about the days way back when, and the shipping of System 7, already sixteen years ago.

“.. and we thought we’d have to bury him in the icon garden,” laughed one woman. My ears perked up. The icon garden?

“Oh, yeah,” said another. When the campus was first built, there was a requirement by the Cupertino city council to have some form of public art on display. “So Apple put up the classic 7 icons..” The cowdog, the pixelated paint brush, the green paint bucket spilling onto the grass..

When Steve Jobs returned in ’97, the icons were the first to be axed. Then. And now.

The Little Things in Life

After running some errands Saturday morning, I returned home, walking through the courtyard, busily lost in thought, until the voice of a small girl piped up, “I am making a mountain for my brother cause one of the other boys pushed him down.”

I stopped in confusion and focused on a dark-haired Indian girl with a smaller boy in tow. “I’m sorry?” I said.

“Hello!” she chirped.

“Hello!” I replied, pleased beyond measure, although I couldn’t say why.

She began to babble non-stop about the boys who had pushed the little boy down and how she brought him up there and how they were making mountains in the sandy earth, and she was making a moat. I stood there, utterly enchanted by her sparkling brown eyes, her candid talk, and her lyrical Indian accent.

After some minutes, a Chinese couple walked up with their daughter and the little girl turned and started chatting with her friend. I slipped away unnoticed, the widest grin on my face, feeling like the luckiest person on earth.

Sunny California

The first two weeks of home-coming have come and gone. I have my first sun-burn of the summer, after reading Harry Potter by the pool-side all afternoon, but it is good to see some color in my legs again.

I did not expect much to change in three months of absence, yet I have somehow changed and I now see things with differently-colored glasses. I look at the people around me and wonder what their story is, where they came from, and what their dearest wishes are for themselves and their families. I think about my scattered family, scattered possessions, scattered memories, and wonder if I’ll ever truly be ‘home’. My heart and mind feel heavy with confusion, and I wonder what it was that was important, and what is left to take its place.

Angst and a foreboding sense of bereavement walk beside me.

Back Home

The first semester has come and gone. I am back in California, and the sunshine is doing me good.

Nothing has changed much, but every time I come back from Europe, I get a distinct sense of feeling very small in a big, big world. Big buildings, big people, big car lanes. And now, people drive too slowly.

It is nice to be back with my friends. Harvey, the lavish green asparagus plant hanging from our balcony, has sprouted red berries. Mimi, my little forest violet, is still refusing to poke out her pretty blue head, but seems to be doing well nevertheless. Of course, time takes its toll on good friendships. Not all have flourished in my absence. The shower blossoms, twice sent to the brink of death and twice revived, have finally succumbed and bloom no more. Roger, my loyal white flag, shriveled from the shock of neglect. Where the crazy lizas once roamed, only bare earth remains..

That being said, Spring has, to all intents and purposes, arrived. And although some were made to give their life, others are making the most of the occasion. A few days after I arrived, two grey pigeons took the clumps of dry, straw-like roots in my flower pot as a fine nest and laid two small, white eggs.

I found this out one morning when I threw open the balcony door and stepped outside to water my plants. The pigeon flew off in a mad rush, landing on a near-by tree branch to sulk and glare at me. After that, I learned to keep the blinds open and myself constantly visible, and to move slowly when venturing outside. I thought there was some way we could share the balcony fairly.

At first, one of the two birds keeping them warm would stay put as I came out of the door, but fly off in a huff of flapping wings and squawks as soon as my back was turned. Little by little, they grew to trust me, however. One day, the bird stayed put the entire time. I even went out once to re-pot a geranium with her only a few feet away.

Alas, one day the birds took off and never came back. A few days later, I went out to inspect the eggs and found them turning an unpleasant shade of brown. Speculation goes that the two of them realized they were too young to have children and that there was more to life than just giving birth anyway.

Guess I won’t be seeing baby pigeons this year.