Things I miss being a Central European expat in North America

Categories career, nature, people, traveling

I recently got a message from an old friend, reminiscing our school trip to Milan, when we spent a week of staying up studying at muggy, hot Italian nights, and drinking bottled spritz in the study room. However, about 10pm we suddenly got hungry and realized there were no cafeterias nearby, so we’d have to walk all the way to Viale Abruzzi to get a sandwich. Which we did. 

The night was hot and humid, we didn’t pass a lot of people, just some delirious, lurid female figures in skimpy outfits. I remember my friend’s meltdown as if it was yesterday when a car stopped by us on an empty roundabout between two closed car repair shops and a nightclub, with the driver shouting: Stronze! I lied when she asked me whether I knew what it meant, not sure whether he took us for the ladies we passed by or just wanted to insult us, but she got scared nonetheless and started freaking out. We couldn’t order a cab, my roaming wasn’t working and her phone died. I was calm though, the guy kept driving, possibly drunk, and we ended up getting the sandwiches and safely getting back to the dorm. It’s been some five or six years since that story now and we would totally go there again, have a sandwich and unreasonable amounts of spritz by an open window, inhaling the musty smell of centuries. You can’t have that elsewhere.

There are little flashbacks like this that I get every single day. They vary in theme and intensity. Sometimes it’s just the flavors: wild strawberries from my garden which used to give me stomachache from overeating them. Gooseberries in the summer, which I’d eat with my grandpa. He would toss some sugar on top and would teach me not to eat the skin. I’d laugh it off and do it, and skip the sugar. Wild blueberries sold by the jar by elder ladies in the market or by the road, where a forest would end. The slightly sour aftertaste of dark rye bread, eaten by itself. Pickled beetroots.

Sometimes it’s the smells. Nowhere else can you go for a run in May and get dizzy from the intoxicating smell of lilac, hidden in the wild, unkempt vegetation, which reminds you of the dirt you’re made of, and makes you smile that there are still places people haven’t touched. Or that they haven’t touched in a long time, letting older teenagers meet up for their first kisses and a bottle of beer by closed railway stations. 
I miss being able to hop on a train or plane for an hour, or ten dollars, to completely change my surroundings, have a cup of coffee in a different cobbled square, in the sun, and hear that creative buzz and chatter behind your back. 
I once talked with a former roommate of mine, an artist with great achievements, who spent several years away from home, about how enriching of an experience it is to travel. We both agreed, however, that nothing important in life comes for free and every place you go to, you gotta leave a part of you to miss. The puzzles may never be put back together but sometimes you can assemble it so that even though the picture is incomplete, you can see it. 

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