Sunday, March 18, 2012

Simultaneously Here and There

When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence

The thing about traveling that has always been both a mystery and a great comfort to me is that one's mind is always both here--in the place where he/she has traveled to--and there--in the place he/she left. You almost can't help it; as you're walking down a busy street in the morning, dodging puddles and attempting to get around slow walkers, you maybe know that it's 10:30 a.m., but you also know that it's 1:30 a.m. in the land that you call home. And then, when the landscape becomes so foggy and grey that it looks like home, you almost forget where you are...that is, until you get to the supermarket and spend an inordinate amount of time selecting bread--so much so that the other shoppers start to look at you like you're either crazy or a thief. Or both. But as soon as you say "excuse me," the tension leaves the air; she's none of the above: she's just foreign!


It takes a while for a place to feel like home, for that feeling of foreignness to fade away. I remember that, even when I started graduate school in my home country, it was so different and far away from everything and everybody that I had known (keep in mind that I started grad school 3 weeks after arriving home from a year in Japan) that I spent a good six months of my life actively hating California. Jamba Juice? Organic this and organic that? Palm trees at Thanksgiving? I was having none of it. And the simple truth is that, here in Helsinki, I don't have that kind of time. 


As a scholar researching abroad, it's all so temporary and fleeting; do I enjoy Helsinki, going to museums and walking around the city with my camera, or do I sit in the library until 7 p.m., looking for needles in haystacks and trying to tame the antiquated beast that is microfiche? I kid you not when I say that on Friday evening I was so frustrated that I was thinking about how if time travel were possible, I would go back to the nineteenth century and, if not murder, at least seriously incapacitate the inventor of microfiche, whom I have now discovered to be (John) Benjamin Dancer. Perhaps all the images about war are rubbing off on me. 


And of course, there are the sweet moments when I abandon the library and escape off into the city, either for lunch at cute places like Zucchini, or into Stockmann for a quick look around at all the gorgeous Arabia porcelain. I've begun to think that, as a memento of my travels, I want to buy something for the kitchen--most likely, a soup tureen (every since I made the Pioneer Woman's creamy Cauliflower Soup and saw her beautiful soup tureen, the desire--no, need--to have a soup tureen has been strong. I do make a lot of soup...).


There are also the evenings when I come home and write postcards, while vegetables are roasting in the oven. I've been on a broccoli, beet and cauliflower kick since I got here. Partly, I think it's the simplicity--olive oil, salt and pepper, 30 minutes in the oven (I can't say what temperature I'm roasting them at since the oven is not labeled, but I'm assuming it's 350 or higher) and voila!--and also partly the fact that, before I left Berkeley, I was reading Tamar Adler's beautifully written, no-nonsense An Everlasting Meal. Never again will boiling a chicken and making soft-boiled eggs sound so appealing. 
 



I've also found myself taking respite from the cold in one of the many little hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants, which you can find on almost every street. Over Saag Paneer, with my trusty little I "heart" Helsinki pen (when you want to write postcards and realize that you've left all of your pens in the library, you're more than willing to splurge 3 Euro on a cutesy pen), I polished off the first batch of cards. More are on their way!



But that niggling feeling of this being a temporary dream world persists. While organizing and labeling the images you took that day in the library, you stumble upon a picture taken from your summer travels: the pastry basket at NYC's VanDaag on the happy day of a college friend's wedding. 



Or the night that, back when we first moved into the new apartment, the Greek made a lovely dinner of Roasted Red Pepper Polenta and set the fire alarm off no less than 3 times. In his defense, the couple who had lived there before us did not clean the oven.


Or my Hershey tin full of coffee beans, purchased at the favorite Cole Coffee in Oakland.


Or how, inspired by the archives of Pink of Perfection, a favorite blog, you made a Butternut Squash, Red Lentil and Chickpea Stew. My favorite part was the yogurt, lime and peanut topping.


Or the apartment itself, with the shimmery curtains and the rocking chair right next to the never-quite- hot-enough radiator.


And the breakfast table,  ready for a stack of just made pancakes. Though 28, I love that "perfectly-perfect-in-every-way" Mary Poppins mug like no other. The only other mug that I like to use in the mornings is my "Katy, You're the Greatest" cup, which my mother bought for me back in 1984. A little dose of self-esteem in the mornings never hurts.


But don't get me wrong; I am savoring and enjoying my time here. If nothing else, this kind of distance helps you to see your life more clearly--to see how, maybe in writing those 68 pages, you were obsessing about all the wrong things, rather than striving for that oh so necessary healthy balance between life and work. It has also, incidentally, persuaded me to reopen the Twitter account (diningwithdusty) that I opened back in July and then almost promptly deleted because I couldn't get over the concept of "tweeting." Travel helps you to overcome your prejudices like nothing else. And this week my time in the library is going to be cut short by a trip to the Lapland, where I will ski for the first time in my life, as well as witness reindeer races. I will also probably have a reindeer burger--it may be a bit merciless, but it's true. And if nature is on my side, perhaps a glimpse of the northern lights will happen, too? 

8 comments:

  1. So lovely! Eric and I both laughed so hard about the microfiche man, and *I am so with you*! Maybe we can get our scientists to invent us a time machine!

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  2. Are you also working with microfiche now? Because I'd totally be up for a time travel adventure with you--that is, if Eric and Kostas are up to the challenge! :)

    P.S. I have no idea how to use twitter, really, but did you get my "tweets" (why do I feel so stupid saying that?)?

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  3. It looks like a nice place to be! Make sure you take notes on the favorite spots you think a couple of distinguished gay bois would like to visit in their roughly 48 hours there. :)

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  4. No, nowhere near microfiche now, but I was scarred enough by my intense use of it for the Petersburg project and my undergrad thesis! Gasp, are you on twitter? No, I did not get your tweets, but I just found them hidden away in some secret corner of twitter--I am going to follow you immediately so that I don't miss them in the future! Hurray! You have no idea how happy this makes me:) Now you can update me on your microfiche adventures minute to minute! I mean, if you want to:)

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  5. I like the new blog background (the birds bear a passing resemblance to Moomins...so I think you must be doing Finland right!). And thank you for the postcard -- duly installed on the refrigerator. Glad you've been able to restore your micro-fiche boggled eyes with cheerier photo-snapping and the cross-country skiing (so jealous! - always fancied trying that!) (& I still have moments like that with bread in the US, even after all these years... bread, Brot, хлеб...never all quite the same thing...)

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  6. Beautiful post! I loved your pictures from Finland!

    Oh, and I do love your new background!

    When are we eating a Mary Poppins breakfast? :)

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  7. Camm, it *is* a lovely place to be, but the monotony of the archives can take the fun out of a lot of things. I've got plenty of recommendations, although I don't know if they'll be the kind of places you and your wealthy man will want to go. But I'll give you a list.

    Cameron, I would never update anybody on the microfiche minute by minute. It would essentially be a wall of rage.

    Alyson, thank you! I also thought it had a fairly Finnish look, but, really, it reminded me a bit of my college bedspread, which was a lovely blue and white (yes, I had a non-pink phase)! And perhaps we'll meet in Tahoe one day for some cross country; it's like wearing really pointy shoes and not quite knowing where your foot begins and ends...

    Maria, thank you! I'm glad you like the photos; I feel like some of them are snapped hastily and then I know what they look like only when I view them on the computer. We can have a Mary Poppins breakfast when I return; in fact, Anna and Apostolos are coming for Easter. Perhaps we could have some brunch thing at our apartment and you and Christos could come up from Stanford? It would be a superb occasion for me to practice my Greek. :)

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  8. OMG, not wealthy, just distinguished. :) Looking forward to you getting back!

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