This vacation has been one context shift after another. From traveling alone in Vienna, to traveling with three other guys alone the by-ways of Slovakia, to hanging out with Ivan's big family, to again traveling alone on trains and staying a few days in Prague, finally I've returned to my childhood context of Southern California suburbia. It's odd... this is really a unique part of the world... unlike everywhere else. Just realized that my mom and sister have never been to Europe. How is that possible?
Whereas in my childhood we lived in plastic new urbanism communities 3 blocks from a grocery store, park, school, and church no matter where you lived, now everybody is starting to move into gated communities that have their own parks and stores protected from the other people living in other gated communities. It makes me feel weird, as if perhaps I'm not aware of some reason to be scared. In actuality, it feels like more of an inconvenience and an excuse for the association to impose more rules for no reason other than a placebic peace of mind. I don't want to be too critical since it is my mom and my friends who are living in these places, but at the same time it just magnifies the feeling of isolation and imposed perfection that I was running away from so many years ago.
In contrast, most cities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (and the rest of Europe for the most part) have no fences in their yards, and have large open pedestrian zones that have a fountain in the center. In America, the only thing that we ever face is a storefront or a movie theater. It's a small thing, but facing a fountain or a hillside does a lot to change the mentality of the day.
Hanging out with my sister's daughter, Adelyn, has been fun. She's afraid of me though... apparently she's afraid of all boys. Slowly she's getting used to me though, so I'm hoping we're going to be best friends by the time I leave. Her birthday party is this Saturday, so that'll be an interesting climax to the Southern California vacation to contrast with the wedding in Slovakia that ended my time there.
Everything in California is huge. Walking across the street is a workout. A grande is the smallest size at the coffee shops. A small salad is enough to feed a family. Strange how the usage of space can reflect itself in an entire culture. Huge cars, huge roads, huge meals, huge stores, huge parking lots, huge houses... everything huge. If something is within a 45 minute drive, it's considered close. My sister's living room is about twice the size of my studio apartment. I wonder if we're like goldfish, filling the space we're given. When we can't grow any bigger we start buying things to fill the space. I couldn't help but feel sick walking through the aisles of Costco. Even those are bigger here. A lot of it could just be my own issues... after all I have developed somewhat of an allergic reaction to all things Californian, but it seeps from everything here, suffocating you, and the strange thing is that even if you get sick of it it still slowly transforms you and you start thinking in the same way.
But the sun is nice. I need to go to the beach. Seeing the style of life here has its strange attraction too. Everything is on track. People are married. People are happy. People are living to the maximum allowance of their credit cards and loans. People have careers. Long-term plans. People are having kids and they're getting the best of the best for deals that they found through various connections. It's safe. Clean (except for the air). The schools are good. Maybe this is the end we've been going after and it's only a matter of getting over the bad taste it leaves in our (or maybe just my) mouth(s).
I want to write up more about Europe too... already it seems strangely distant. I guess that's how we end up being able to return to our daily lives, by making everything else seem like a dream. Right now, Seattle feels like a dream. In any case, there are going to be a lot of changes once I get back.