December 9, 2007

Homeward Bound

Today is almost our last day in Germany. The suitcases are packed, the boxes shipped. And tomorrow, after a final visit with Birthe over coffee and an evening violin concert in which Chris is performing, Kevin and I will leave “wunderschöne Würzburg” indefinitely.

It’s strange that just as I am leaving this place, I have begun to feel at home here. I haven’t any of the things that I normally need to feel “at home”: family, pets, houseplants, etc. But, in the past twelve months I managed to make pretty good in-roads into "the awful German language." I carved out a happy routine in a foreign environment. (Enough cannot be said about the importance of “routine” for unemployed writer-types.) And most importantly, I made friends – a feat that seemed all but impossible last January.

In fact, it’s really my friends here – and my friends alone – that have made this funny little corner of Franconia feel like home, and they are what I’ll miss even more that bike-rides to Sommerhausen or the tantalizing proximity to London, or Paris, or Berlin. I’ve been truly touched by how much leave-taking we’ve been doing these past couple of weeks – invitations that couldn’t be turned down no matter how much packing and planning we should have been doing: a bowling night with the Fakhers, a day-trip to Stuttgart with Christine, and my first-ever German rock concert with Birthe. (Oh, why didn’t I ever post about that?!)

Last Thursday, I threw my first – and probably my last – German house party. It was really a farewell party for me, but seeing as how my friends all live in tiny dorm rooms and I am – at least until Tuesday – the lucky tenant of a rather spacious studio apartment, my house was selected as the only place big enough to accommodate everyone. I suppose I should be a little embarrassed that, in essence, I wound up throwing my own farewell party, but I was just tickled that I had enough people to invite that we required an entire studio apartment. (Remember: It’s a spacious studio.)

And truth be told, it was one of the best parties I’ve ever thrown. Despite the cold, torrential rain, almost everyone came – and came bearing gifts! Chris gave an impromptu violin concert. I taught my Korean and Japanese friends how to make “home-made American pizza.” And halfway through the night, Kevin had to run out for more beer – a sure sign of a successful party, in my opinion.

It was all so much fun that I couldn’t help feeling as petulant as a child that the party will keep on going, indefinitely – just without me. During moments like this, I fantasize about how it would be if Kevin and I stayed here in Würzburg forever … Birthe and I could continue discussing foreign affairs over coffee. I could make an endless number of bike rides along the Main. I could continue my studies at the University and plant a veritable fountain of petunias on my balcony. …

But such daydreams never last long. The complex questions of setting-up permanently in a foreign country inevitably intrude. Where could we work? What could we live on? Where could we live? German universities do not hire professors who don’t speak German – no matter how well they speak “Physics.” Our income is absurdly inflated by German standards – and we don’t have to pay the frightful German taxes! And our landlords would not be interested giving up their holiday-rental for another twelve months.

And really, that’s what it comes down to: We not just been living abroad – we’ve been having a twelve-month holiday. Sure, we had jobs and went to school like normal people do. We even had to pay a phone bill! But in the end, we avoided a lot of the really gritty stuff. Kevin didn’t have to partake in the mind-boggling bureaucracy of the German university system, and when my German classes became too stressful, I could just quit and devote myself to bike-riding and novel-reading full time (instead of winding up in the hospital with ulcers like some of my friends).

Inevitably, one must wake up. Face facts. Return to the real world – or some such cliché. For us, the “real world” is Edmonton, Canada, that frozen outpost that on my first encounter seemed a like the dark side of the moon. (The temperature there today is a balmy –14 degrees Celsius.)

But even in Northern Canada one can plant petunias and ride bicycles – if only for three months out of the year. And who knows what other adventures might await us there? Though moving to Canada is returning home for Kevin, it's still a foreign country for me and may be just as challenging as Germany was, despite our common language, eh? So, while I’ve got one eye steadily fixed on the friends I am leaving behind, I’ve got another trained on a little blue house and a little empty garden just over the horizon.

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