Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hopefully Coming soon to The Duluth Budgeteer...

From Another Angle: Mid-Winter Buoys

Any native Duluthian knows about the mid-winter blues. When the grays of the sky layer against the grays of the earth and stepping into a pile of muddy slush in new shoes seems routine, the winter blues have arrived.

The winter blues combined with homesickness for me this January, and I found myself wondering what exactly I was doing here in Sofia, Bulgaria. Why was I struggling with a toddler’s vocabulary, searching desperately for a friendly-looking hunk of cheese at the store, and living far from lakes, rollerblading trails, family, and friends? 

The answer is as simple as true answers usually are.

I find meaning here in experiences that buoy me in a sea of the blues. Against the backdrop of this Sofia winter – stray dogs curled up for warmth, sunrays streaming off snowy Mount Vitosha, a gas crisis affecting heat and power, protestors downtown – these experiences remind me that though the winter blues extend beyond American borders, so does their remedy. 

Picture yourself in a darkened theater, in the center of the fifth row. A huge phoenix on the rising red velvet curtain appears to be flying upwards, revealing the first ever stage production of All That Jazz. A few feet away you know your new friend Boris, the director, is sitting in a secret booth, taking notes. This is his baby, a show he adapted for theater, translated into Bulgarian, and then created from scratch in a country yet to embrace musical theater. He has shown you around, introduced you to every actor and actress, plied you with mint tea and snacks, and let you wander backstage taking video and pictures. Why has he done all this for you? That’s the question I asked myself a few weeks ago as I joined the audience in giving Boris Pankin’s All That Jazz a standing ovation. The answer? I was the friend of a friend, a young American interested in theater, and he wanted to share his world with me. While protestors milled about in the square a few blocks away, I took in this great gift of hospitality, given freely to me in Bulgaria, with no expectation of return. 

A few weeks later, Brett and I drove to Pernik for the annual Masquerade. We didn’t know where the festival was, what it would be like, or whether we were going at the right time. Somehow we managed to arrive during the main costume competition, in which troupes from all over Bulgaria danced in massive masked headdresses. Cotton-candy-eating and wig-wearing kids squeezed through the crowd for the best view, and adults just smiled as they were bumped and jostled sideways; that benevolent mood, in which everyone is so happy they just want everyone else to be happy, prevailed throughout the town. My worries about exams, my angst over mud puddles and slow mail seemed to melt away with the sound of the cowbells the dancers were ringing, scaring away the bad spirits of the old year to welcome in the new.

At the end of January we stole quietly away to Budapest, toasting the successful end of our first semester over cherry chocolate torte at Gerbaud’s and incredible “Paradiso” pizza at my new favorite Italian place in the world (yes, it’s in Hungary, not Italy). Strangely, this realization was another buoy, the dinner out another experience that brought me a moment of clarity. The best pizza I’ve ever eaten was in Budapest, the best French apple tart in Prague. I know the sounds of a lapping Aegean sea and the afternoon bells of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna. I can compare the charms of Paris and London, recommend the best view in Inverness. I may miss home, I may have to convince myself of my own strength now and then when the gray gets overwhelming, but I have buoys to cling to. I know that what I am doing will mean something to me someday, long after my homesickness has faded because I am, once again, at home. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favorite so far. Excellent. mom one concern - the last sentence is incomplete. Skype Sunday at 1pm?