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Back From Civilization

Monday, April 19, 2010
As anyone who reads BH's blog knows, we had a lovely time traveling to Europe. Two weeks in France and Spain sounds an awful lot like a dream vacation for anyone, but for me it had special emotional resonance. I've wanted to visit Spain (and in particular Seville) since I was a teenager, so this vacation fulfilled a long-held desire. After building Seville up in my mind for two decades, there was the risk that it couldn't possibly live up to expectations. I tried to prepare for the fact that it might be a great experience, but sadly different than what I'd imagined. But to my delight, it wasn't. The reality of Seville matched my fantasies of it almost exactly.

In visiting Europe I was suspicious of the idea that it would be a life-altering experience. I'm in my mid-thirties now, and I've experienced a great deal over the last decade or so (thanks to my intrepid wife). This wasn't even my first trip to Europe: we went to Italy for twelve days a few years ago. It's hard to imagine a two-week stint have any major psychological effects. But to my surprise, the Old World did have an impact after all. Perhaps it was because we spent to long there, but I developed a taste for the slower pace and more refine palate of daily life in those great old western cities. Walking down the street first thing in the morning for a baguette, taking a siesta in the afternoon, traveling by train rather than by car, enjoying a leisurely glass of wine over lunch - these are all experiences that (admittedly affluent) Europeans take for granted, but seem profoundly alien to pell-mell pace of contemporary Americans. Why are we in such a rush again? Spaniards and Frenchmen are just as productive as we are, have all the luxuries we do, yet have much less extremes of wealth and poverty and appear to have the time and predisposition to appreciate all that wealth.

I'm thinking perhaps the fact that America is an immigrant society is of greater importance than I realized. We are the descendants of people who picked up and left so they could start over somewhere else, who were willing (or forced) to risk everything, who took a grand gamble. Europeans are the descendants of people who stayed put, who patiently built upon what they already had. I'm not going to say that one path is better or worse, but the ramifications of those strategies are profound.

I'm very much an American, and I expect that after a few months I'll return to my old habits, that the frenetic pace of ambitious striving will seem normal once again. But I suspect that part of me will always hanker for that more elegant, more restrained way of life. Finding Europe was in some senses finding out that I'd been doing it wrong all along, and I miss it already.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:39 AM
  • After living in Berlin for 2 years and coming back to this god forsaken country, my husband and I still struggle with trying to keep some of our European traditions. It is amazing how different the outlook and expectations of life are... and we really hope to keep some of those traditions (being more grounded, less materialistic) alive as the years go by... Glad you guys enjoyed your trip!

    By Blogger Super Babe, at 9:12 AM  
  • Oddly enough, I had the same sense of "what's the hurry?" when I came back from Hawaii. The feeling goes away about two weeks later, but feels great while it lasts!

    By Blogger Zola, at 9:16 AM  
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