Phase 1, learning how to live in Germany, is wrapping up. I have all my furniture, I’ve been paid, I have my residence permit, I’ve figured out the bus and train system (for my purposes, anyway), I’m starting to get a better feel for my place and purpose at the school, I’m becoming more comfortable and more adventurous (in a timid sort of way) with my two hot plates (vegetable pancakes? oh, what the heck), some semblance of a routine is emerging. With all the bureaucracy of Phase 1 out of the way, I have the time and the stability and the mental peace of mind to begin a transition to Phase 2: Learning to love Germany?
No, not quite. My Phase 2 is, I think, beginning to miss home.
And it makes sense. It’s fall here, my favorite season (who am I kidding? Every season is my favorite season at the beginning). So fine, let me rephrase: it’s fall here, the homiest season, with its Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, apple cider and sitting out on front porches until it gets too chilly, and with its fake spider web decor and its suggestion of all the cozy winter things to come: padding around in house shoes, watching dad scramble precariously over the roof hanging up Christmas lights, baking and baking and baking, drinking hot chocolate by a blazing fire in the fire place and all those other things I don’t actually do, and reader, let us not forget my birthday, the best holiday of them all.
This homesickness is by no means a constant thing, but more of a crouching tiger hidden dragon that springs up and attacks at the most surprising moments. I’m putting away my lunch meat, and have a sudden longing for resealable Kroger deli packages; I’m cooking vegetable pancakes and realize Joe’s not around to wash dishes when I’m done; I’m walking home at night and see the blue glow of a tv turned on in someone’s living room, and in that moment, I would like nothing more than to snuggle up under an afghan and watch a heart-warming episode of Hoarders or Whale Wars with the people I love best. I remember reading a passage in a John Irving book (Garp or Owen Meaney, I couldn’t tell you which) in which the narrator is walking at night and describes the blue flickering glow as a “cancerous light” that indicates a room of people “not reading,” and at the time, my teenage, high-minded, literary self was like, and I quote, “Right on!” but now… watching tv doesn’t seem like wasting time, it seems like enjoying time with people you enjoy. Every time I pass such a window, I always feel like Tiny Tim (or maybe it’s Oliver? Some poor, possibly orphaned kid of romanticized Christmas past) peering in to a warm, cozy room full of loving family and Christmas cheer, while he himself remains in the cold, hungry, with barely a scarf to his name… but instead of peeking in at Father carving a plump roast duck, I’m peering in on people watching Desperate Housewives overdubbed in German.
But since I began this post talking about fall specifically, I will continue in that vein, if you’ll allow me a few more self-indulgent paragraphs. I was walking home yesterday, and smelled fire (not the FIRE!! sort, but the pleasant kind), which, coupled with the Rocky Mountain brand American-style marshmallows I had spotted earlier that day at the grocery store (an aside: isn’t it strange that every “American” food here is not produced by a brand we actually have in America?), reminded me of the best of autumnal activity, camp fires: the ones in the fire pit in the back yard; the ones from camp outs that were a bit too cold, so you’d spend your time stomping and complaining and rotating yourself, warming first the front side, then the backside, but you’d never be altogether warm. Ah, the way you’d sit, singing songs or in complete silence, watching the sparks rise and dropping charred hot dogs into the ash, debating whether they’re still worth eating… and then I looked across the street and realized that some guy had out a flame thrower, and was torching the weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, which, in its weirdness, knocked all that nostalgia right out of my head.
Then again, as I was walking along the Nahe, the river that runs alongside my walk into Bingen, I was struck by how perfectly fall-ish it was – the air was just the right degree of crispness, the light filtered through the trees in just the
right way, the leaves underfoot were just crunchy enough. And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be escaping Game Day in Fayetteville, taking a hike at Devil’s Den… or heck, I’d even love a Game Day in Fayetteville, and if that’s not indication enough of the syrupy light nostalgia can cast, I don’t know what is. I miss state parks, I miss hikes in the Ozarks, I miss outdoor lunches of summer sausage and Ritz.
That’s not to say that a German fall doesn’t have things going for it. With three wine fests (and a growing wine belly) under my belt, I should know. Federweißer, an early fall wine that tastes so fresh and unprocessed, and this two-week-long fall break I’m currently enjoying are testament enough that there are some bonuses to fall in Germany. In fact, it’s quite fun to see how seasons are celebrated in another country, something I’ve never had the luck to experience before.
Now that that’s out of my system, next step: Phase 3, learning to redirect my energy to do something productive, like, you know, learn the language. You can’t learn it through osmosis, but not for lack of trying. Drat.