Budapest!

I’m currently in Budapest for work, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in my life now. Did you know that this city is split into two sections by the Danube river, with one side referred to as Buda and the other as Pest? I didn’t either! We have so much in common! (Disclaimer: the most fascinating thing to me about reading about Otzi in college was discovering that Italy and Switzerland share a border, so maybe it’s not super shocking that European geography frightens and confuses me.)

I’m here for a conference, so this trip will be more about actual focus and less about trolling the city looking for the tastiest pastries, but I managed to sneak in some sightseeing this morning. Like most places in Europe, the architecture and history just astounds me. In Los Angeles, preserving Art Deco buildings from the 1930s seems like too much effort. I cannot believe the centuries that are on display in Europe. It is incredible.

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These went well, as per usual.

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Uggggh.

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The Danube River, the Parliament building, and the Chain Bridge.

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The Chain Bridge, complete with Anxiety Lion. He looks like he just remembered he has a midterm. Poor guy.

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A turret in Fisherman’s Bastion, which sits on an enormous hill overlooking the Danube and offers gorgeous views of the city.

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Matthias Church, the one thing I was desperate to see. It’s so colorful and whimsical. For a big secular jerkface, I am really, really, particularly in love with churches and cathedrals. They are just so obviously revered and are always so lovingly constructed and maintained.

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The inside of Matthias Church.

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Again.

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And again.

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Two things I discovered in the three hours I wandered:

1) An unexpected and completely awesome perk to touring by myself with just a purse and no visible camera is that people trying to sell tours or trinkets leave me alone. I’ve got no backpack, paparazzi lens, or large group of chattering Americans to clue them into the fact that I am precisely the demographic their bosses would love them to force flyers upon. It’s a marvelous loophole. Such a discovery.

2) I (/maybe all women?) am (/are?) a hot commodity here. I can sometimes be a pretty big downer about cat calls and obnoxious unwanted attention from strange men, but being so fresh from my Norway experience, where I was literally a bridge troll in comparison to most of the population and where approximately zero percent of the Ken dolls parading the streets were interested, it’s nice to have a bit of an ego boost. It’s Compliment City over here. Love it.

For the Record.

I have had a lifelong aversion to cameras. I’d love to have more pictures of myself with the people I love in places I visit, but I also love not being confronted with what my face looks like in photographs, and usually the latter love wins out.

Here’s a small collection of the photos taunting me from my Facebook Timeline Review (where I keep them hidden from view):

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No. And look at how I’m standing. What exactly is happening there?

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Angry Resting Face in full force.

WHAT IS THIS? WHO IS THIS?

Oh No

Nope.

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A study in apathy.

I think I’m an okay looking person, but turn a camera on me and suddenly it is all giant chins and crazy smiles and Oh my God, what do I do with my body?

So, still photographs and I aren’t buds.

I’ve recently learned that this tense relationship extends to voice recording and video cameras. I’ve spent the last week recording my voice teaching people how to use computer programs, and I can officially say that speaking naturally when I know I’m being recorded is not my forte. I sound like idiot robot who doesn’t know how to pronounce English words or regulate inflection. For example, I shared one of the tutorial videos with a friend from a different US state and he said, “Oh, I can finally hear your Californian accent.”

No, no, good sir. That’s just my inability to speak into a microphone like a normal human being.

Just today, because every terrible cake needs its humiliating icing, I was asked to be interviewed on camera about a project I worked on at the university where I’m employed. And it was the worst. The interview was outside, in the wind and sun, so I gave all my poorly worded, totally scrambled answers with my ridiculous new bangs were all over the place and my eyes watering. I’d even gotten the questions ahead of time and had prepped, but with a camera in my face and audience watching, I just could not.

It was like the worst job interview in history, which was recorded and will be posted on a university department website.

I can’t wait.

On Passions.

My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.

Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”

Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.

What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.

My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.

And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.

Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.

And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.

There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”

However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.

I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.