Thursday, August 19, 2004

I'm on the edge of recreating my old life. Coming back to the states and home after 7 months and 10 days away was a little like seeing myself in the mirror suddenly and not recognizing who that woman was -- me! Every day something reminds me of what we saw and thought about on the road in Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France and Britain.

The first time to the grocery store was a meltdown. An entire aisle dedicated to cereal? So many choices in every department, all brightly colored packaging clamouring for attention. I suppose that is appropriate in a consumer culture, but I'm not used to the messages. My closet was also a shock. With roughly 5 changes of clothes (and many trips to the sink for washing out) over the last months, I wasn't quite ready for so many choices.

The television ramps up from 4-5 channels, often not in English, to hundreds. Our local library, once a haven with tapestry-covered armchairs, has been totally reorganized, fewer tables for sitting and browsing, more stacks and stacks of books. So, does such luxury (for it seems that) just obscure how we use each day? I feel surrounded by clutter and uncertain of what is essential even as it's wonderful to be home, surrounded by beloved green hills, the Willamette Valley, even during August, the dried out month of yellow grassy fields.

And so I begin, first with family and friends, reconnecting with celebrations (a new baby, new jobs) and sadness (two deaths). And reconnecting with work. Aargh. Five classes and four preps. Actually five preps, since one of the double classes is online. And I need to switch over from Cold Fusion to Blackboard, a relatively time-intensive program so far, with its own structures, rather like living online in someone else's house. So that's only about 125 students if I hold the line on adds, but the online registration shows my tech writing classes already full.

I think I want to continue the blog. Maryanne writes about once a week -- her thoughts about living in Egypt. I'd like to figure out how to add a comments link. Being home is its own adventure with the November elections coming up, sparking my paranoia, well nurtured by the Vietnam era. Bush and Kerry both visited Portland on the same day last week -- there's a kind of theater. Kerry headed towards Riverfront Park and tens of thousands of people showed up. Bush stopped at several carefully orchestrated events. Only donors and volunteers were allowed the august presence. Is he afraid of the American people?

And the Olympics are on, a celebration of courage, effort, discipline, and beauty, even if I only watch a few highlights. The war in Iraq is nearly invisible, even as the loss of American life passes 900 and the loss of Iraqi life is measured in tens of thousands. The administrative change this week is that the Iraqis kicked out the press. The only journalists allowed to remain are those embedded with the troops -- the same troops that protect them. Will that affect the news, the ability to see the larger picture, evaluate what's happening overall, or even to get the word out about what's happening?

Today's daily poem by Alicia Ostriker reminds me that the same landscape provokes different perspectives, but the west coast is home. Ah, it is good to be home.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Good morning, everyone. It's warmer in London, up to 85 degrees. We're enjoying the tube, or as some call it, the underground. Think hot, almost airless, and funny crowds of people, trailing kids and suitcases, every nationality using every language, in seemingly hundreds of different directions, up and down escalators and elevators, traffic moving on the left side instead of the right, with recorded messages to "Mind the Gap" on getting off the train. It's a great system with a weekly travel pass. We can go anywhere in the city at any time -- without having to drive, and I will miss it. Of course, we don't need such a system in a small town like Corvallis.

We're truly short-timers now. Only 9 days to lift off at Heathrow Airport. We'll be going up to York on Tuesday morning, and then to Bath, then back to London for an overnight and headed for home on Tuesday morning. Whew! Too much excitement.

Today's our anniversary, so we celebrated 29 years of married bliss by going to a London musical, "Jerry Springer, the Opera!" We were at first shocked, then entranced as profanity gave way to high kicks, and lovely singing and dance numbers, ending up with Jerry Springer hosting the Devil and God, with an engaging Devil trying to get Christ and God to apologize for casting him out. This was not a musical to appeal to the conservative right, but it raised many interesting issues about individual responsibility, tolerance, and forgiveness. But you had to be there to appreciate some of the sarcasm and the critique actually of Springer himself for not taking a stand about the people he hosts, the carnage that results, and the yearning underneath tragedy for a way out of such messes. Sometimes I think we can choose but the reality is probably more complicated, that we make our choices as best we can and then get lucky -- or unlucky. I'd like to believe in karma and healing the world, tikkun olam. Allen would probably tell me I need to be more optimistic. Anyway, it was a wonderful musical and even if it was our anniversary, still a fine gift. Such creativity and energy in the staging, singing, dancing and acting -- it was a spectacle.

Then on Friday, we took a day trip up to Cambridge to see the universities there. Wow! I was incredibly moved by King's College Chapel. We literally walked in and gasped at the beautiful, delicate, stone fan-fold ceiling with stained glass windows on either side reaching up. Equally moving was the music by the King's College Chapel Choir. Apparently each Christmas Eve service, the soloist, a boy about 10, is selected literally seconds before the performance (so he doesn't worry too much about preparing). Another moving ceremony is the investiture of faculty as they put on their robes and march down the nave to the Provost and take an oath swearing to commit themselves to teaching and nurturing the students in their charge. This ceremony is private, in the evening, and only with the faculty and Provost in attendance. But still, we felt a part of this as we looked at the architecture, the stonework, the heavily carved wooden choir -- all from the Tudor era, the 1560s, the earliest of universities. Walking around Cambridge was fun as the town is one that has worked to retain its medieval heritage. Plenty of book stores too, but no stopping as we're too close to going home.

News from home is good. My sister is engaged (hooray!), Rachel and Nick are coming to the airport to get us (hooray!), and we'll soon be back home with family and friends. I'm beginning to think what this trip has meant. I think I may need the rest of my life to figure it all out -- each country has expanded my understanding of culture and history so much as well as raising many questions. Access to good news has been difficult, especially this week as the Democratic Convention has been compressed to 2-3 minute sound bites here, but some might take that as a blessing. The editorials suggest Europe is still very concerned about Bush gaining a second term, but it does sound like Kerry was inspirational. I'm hoping.

Time for lunch. A brie sandwich in Kensington Park. Maybe with peach tea by the rose garden.

Be well. Beth