Thursday, November 12, 2009

erika in the USA: doppelgangers in Maine

Next on my itinerary was visiting in Limestone Maine, where my brother, his wife, and their twin 18-month-old boys Matthew and Thomas live. Since I’ve been away so long, I hadn’t yet met the bosy, so it was very exciting for me to meet these first members of the next generation of our immediate family. Matthew and Thomas are, of course, the sweetest, smartest, most handsome and charming children ever to exist (says she who is not biased at all).

And saying so, it’s of course not at all narcissistic to say that the two of them are remarkably similar to me and my twin sister when we were their age. :) Truly, though, the resemblances between Matthew and I, and Thomas and Lisa, are astounding: not just physical resemblance, but also similar personalities and preferences. Unsurprisingly, Matthew and I got on famously. Top activities: Legos (construction and destruction), dropping things and picking them up, throwing things, hiding, climbing up and down the mountain of soft things, and dancing. See photos for dance sequence: the little guy’s got moves! :)

It was of course also great to see my wonderful big brother Reed and his wife Sue, who are settling back into life in northern Maine after a many-years hiatus in North Carolina. Reed’s teaching criminal justice and doing police work both part time, and Sue’s kept her accounting job from North Carolina, working online. They’re both of course tired by new-parenting, but are doing well.

Reed and I got to have a day off from kid-watching and took the opportunity to ride some ATVs (four-wheelers) around in the woods and trails along the Maine/Canadian border (less than a mile from their house). I’d forgotten they’re SUCH fun, like really fast mountain biking with vroom-vroom motors. :) Of course my visit was too short, but I look forward to going back in the spring when we move back to the States for real.

erika in the USA: sister!

The second stop on my American adventure was to Chicago to visit my twin sister Lisa.

Chicago is a very new city, grid crazy. It’s cold and windy. The architecture is not all it’s cracked up to be. People wear fedoras and trenchcoats for real, and art school hipsters are like hipsterdom squared. I visited many museums: my favourite was the Chicago History Musuem. We drove to Wisconsin, which (who knew?) is very close to Chicago, and visited the Mars Cheese Castle. On the way back to the city, we stopped by the rural shore of Lake Michigan, which was even more ocean-like than its city shore.

The second-best thing about my visit to Chicago was getting to hang out with my sister’s friends from her college days at Mt. Holyoke. I hadn’t seen many of them since we graduated, and it was a delight to spend time with such intelligent and silly women. I had missed that kind of low-brow high-quality company. :)

The first best thing about my visit was of course seeing my sister, who I adore and who should never ever live so far away (says the pot calling the kettle black). Watching stupid movies, eating really good food (deep dish pizza! fresh tamales! pumpkin pie!), wandering around the city, helping with her art projects, all were infinitely more fun with her than such activities can ever be without the best of company.

Random thoughts while in Chicago: Being in America having been away helps me see how strangely messed up aspects of our culture are: nothing new, but strange reminders nonetheless. Fatness, for instance: one of my first thoughts off the plane was how fat Americans are. Really, inexcusably overweight. The food with so many chemicals, so much falseness, so many calories, sad to be thinking about limiting caloric intake when at my school we worry about the kids having enough calories… And people have so many possessions! It’s ridiculous! And the fanatical conservatives: so sadly brainwashed, so frustratingly ignorant, so blatantly untruthful! I’d pity them if they weren’t so frightening. Also, bad smells: why do American public bathrooms smell so bad? I can authoritatively say that many third-world infested sewage ditches and truck-stop piss canals smell better; similarly, reeking pee in doorways and streetcorners, and the smell of homeless people: so gross, so unnecessary! Come on, America, we can do better.

erika in the USA: home at last

At long last, I am visiting at home in the great old US of A. It’s strange to be a visitor in my own country: to be here temporarily, to not be able to have one house, city, state, have more of a pull on me than another, to not be able to accumulate anything since all I have for space is my suitcase, to act as a tourist, to have no place of my own to retreat.

But oh, oh, oh, is it good to be home. I LOVE this country. It is glorious and tremblingly lovely and HUGE and full of such spirit and creativity. It (generally) smells good: I practically hyperventilated sniffing at the wooded parking lot on Rt 6 on the way from Boston to CT as the smells of the fallen leaves and adjacent brook and snow in the air and wet dirt filled my hungry soul-belly.

Of course the best thing about this country is that it’s full of people I love. Firstly, my mother, who picked me up at the airport and brought me to the house in Connecticut which has been my home since I was 12. It was so good to be with her again: she’s so practical, so loving, so appreciative of the joys in life, one of my best friends.

After a day of recovering from my 50 hour trip from Bangkok and gorging myself on the delights in her fridge (chevre! cranberries! cider! bitty toasting bread!) we were joined by two of my other favourite people: two of my mother’s siblings, my aunt Pippy and uncle Ross, come in from Berlin and Ohio respectively. Together we spent the next week sorting through the possessions of my grandfather, who passed away last Christmas. We made great progress, and the family talking and stories and pictures and bad jokes and reminiscences and support and shared grief and loving not just for my grandfather but also my long-deceased grandmother and other ancestors was a real blessing. I wish we could have all stayed longer, since we are so rarely together, and so rarely step beyond the barriers of holiday rituals and entertainment and niceties to talk about these precious things and really lean back on the family bonds. I’m not being eloquent enough to do the days justice…