Spain!

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Just last night, I flew back from Madrid, after spending a few days traveling around with my parents, whom I hadn’t seen in six months. It was so, so, so wonderful to see them, most especially because we had a lot of long discussions about what has happened in my life in the past year. Seeing as I dropped a huge bomb on them on their summer vacation last August and then proceeded to move immediately into their house, stop eating food, refuse to leave my room for five months, and then move across the world, it was high time we had stable, sane, normal-people conversations about What Happened. After nearly a year of thinking they resented me, and being convinced that they didn’t understand what had inspired all the change, I am finally confident that they get it. And that they support me. And that they are happy that I am happy.

It is such a weight off, I can’t even describe. As I moved through the stages of grief and crazy last fall, I was incredibly lucky with my friends, who were nothing if not absolute saints, pushing me through the worst time of my life with margaritas and root beer floats. At the same time, I was distant from my parents, because they were reeling and I was in no place to articulate my feelings to them in a way they’d understand. I stopped speaking to them almost entirely, only beginning to talk to my mom more frequently on Facebook after I moved to England. (I guess we both benefited from the physical distance.)

Knowing now that everyone has stabilized is priceless.

In addition, I ate a ton of paella, drank liters of sangria, and got to see tons of history, so the trip was a win-win.

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Churros with hot chocolate dipping sauce. (Sadly, these churros were not rolled in cinnamon sugar.)

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Roman aqueduct in Segovia. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Aqueduct again.

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View of Segovia from the small cafe where I ate a late afternoon snack of fries and green tea, because I’m disgusting.

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The view from our hotel. Doesn’t get any more European than this.

In English.

I love living in England. People eat fries with everything (including lasagna, soup, and pizza), everyone is too polite to say anything negative about anything so I feel like a super genius all the time, and the supermarkets make so much more sense. (I can’t describe this. It’s just true.)

However, there are a few things that baffle me:

1a) They have one-year Master’s programs.

2a) These Master’s programs run from September to September and hold their graduations in July, meaning that students complete their coursework about nine months before they don graduation robes. I know people who are deep into the first year of their PhDs and only just walking in MA graduations this week.

3) Stovetops are called “cookers,” janitorial staff are “cleaners,” and elevators are “lifts,” but it’s too informal for me to address an email with “Hello!”

4) The weather. Yesterday, it was Atlanta, Georgia in August. Today, it was Los Angeles, California in October.

5) People preparing for exams are said to be “revising.” As in, “I have a huge test tomorrow, so I can’t hang out. I need to revise.” What exactly is going to revised here? What’s being changed? Is it your brain? Are we really referring to studying as “brain restructuring”? It doesn’t make sense. It. Just. Doesn’t.

6) The metric system. I know this isn’t England’s fault. AMERICA.

7) The plumbing. The last relaxing shower I took was at the beginning of April, in a hostel in Prague. Usually, it’s a race against the hot water boiler emptying and seizing and pumping air instead of water, occasionally set to the beautiful rhythms of deep, rumbling pipe squealing.

And perhaps most upsetting of all:

8) There is no delicious Mexican food. I have a trip home planned for September, and it is going to be all burrito, all the time.

Things I Learned In Newcastle.

Yesterday morning at 7 am, I flew up to Newcastle for a workshop. Last night at 8 pm, I flew back to Southampton. (Initially, I wrote “at 8 pm, I flew home,” and then I immediately panicked. Is England home now? Eeeps.)

When Newcastle University offered to fund my flights up there for one day, I was super impressed with myself. I’d sent out a query about attending a workshop exactly six days before the event was set to take place, and instead of the form rejection email I deserved, I received a supremely enthusiastic reply, complete with details on a flight that could get me there and back in one day. Mind = blown. As much as I loved teaching children, it was always a terrible struggle to wring $20 for new colored pencils out of the administration of the private school where I worked. So, the thought of someone I didn’t know throwing £200 at me so that I could share my infinite wisdom with a group of people who were hugely more educated and accomplished than me was nothing short of unreal.

I was so excited for my business trip.

Sadly, now, sitting on the other end of a 17-hour work day that included two planes, two taxis, two trains, and one bus, I can say that flying to a meeting in another city without also booking a hotel room is really pretty dumb.

However, the workshop was fantastic and Newcastle is gorgeous and I’m very happy I was able to go.

It was also a learning experience:

1) Newcastle Airport is staffed entirely by teenage girls. This is no exaggeration. Check-in desk: girls. Security staff: girls. Gate police: girls. I could not believe it. My air travel safety was in the hands of 18-year-olds with box-dyed pony tails and loud stories about boys. I don’t doubt the intelligence or abilities of young women, as I was one of those once, but there was something mildly unsettling about having the people scanning our carry-ons be people who were having a heated discussion about the best music festivals in England.

2) I am a demon when hungry/tired/traveling. I saw a baby struggling to get its face out of some bright sunshine at the airport and my first thought was, “God, just close your eyes, dummy.” I thought that. About a baby.

3) This is not specific to Newcastle, but it synthesized for me when I tripped over the cord of a running vacuum cleaner at the Newcastle Airport at 5:30 in the afternoon: retail England does not hide its maintenance from the public. In the United States, supermarket shelves are restocked late at night and in the early mornings. In fact, the only time I have ever seen someone wheeling a cart full of boxes around a Ralph’s was when I’d pop into one at 6:30 am for the cheap coffee and bagel I’d sometimes eat in shame in my car before I started work. Here, in the UK, supermarkets are restocked approximately 100% of the time I am inside them. I would say that one in four supermarket aisles have massive carts blocking them at any given moment in England. Also, there is always, always some sort of cleaning happening throughout the day, like in the airport W H Smith bookstore I was in yesterday, where there was a teenage girl (surprise!) wheeling a vacuum around the store in the middle of the day. WHAT.

4) Los Angeles has ruined me for public transportation – in that, there is no public transportation to speak of in LA, and I have now aged to a point at which there is no teaching this old dog new Metro tricks. (Not in a prostitute way, pervs.) I rode the Metro thirty minutes in the wrong direction yesterday and ended up in Sunderland, which is, according to the taxi driver who drove me back into Newcastle, the patchy, sad stepbrother of Newcastle Upon Tyne. (I didn’t say that, guys. It was all the cab driver. Sunderland looked great.)

5) The power of good Mexican food knows no borders. Strangely, of the twelve people at the workshop yesterday, six of us were American ex-pats. Three (including me) were from California. Two were from Los Angeles. I ended up talking to a dude from La Habra about the glory of El Cholo, my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, for about ten minutes. All about the sauces and the chips and the burritos and oh my God I have to stop thinking about this because it is physically painful.

All in all, despite my near-death experience in the bookstore and my very real (and also very fleeting) baby judgment, yesterday was a pretty good day.

I just never want to do something like that again.

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.

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.

Prague!

I originally posted this three days ago, when I was actually in Prague, but I was writing via the WordPress iPhone app on wifi in a hostel, so the result wasn’t great. The finished post was published and then somehow deleted and replaced with an earlier draft, and I just could not summon the strength to fight the app again and reload photos. So, here it is, again, days late. All the adorable sentiments still stand, though.

I am currently in Prague, which is yet another thing to be added to the list of “Things I Never Thought Were Possible.” This is a city of incredible architecture, awesome beer, and amazing sausage (or so I’ve been told – this vegetarian didn’t try any). And the pastry is my new best friend. (I’ve temporarily lifted the ban on sugar and white flour. I’m on vacation, dammit!)

Last summer, I spent 24 hours in Bordeaux, France, but other than that, I had never been to the continent of Europe. Oh, how much I was missing. This is all so different from all the rest of my life that my only frame of reference is Disneyland. As in, tall towers with spires and stained glass and beautiful hidden courtyards and cobblestone streets make me think of Fantasy Land instead of Real Life. This, my friends, is real life.

And it is gorgeous.

(Please forgive the Instagram filter abuse on some of these photos. I am using my phone as a camera and sometimes it needs a little help.)

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