After six countries, spending enough money to purchase a Fiat, seven gigs of memory on my camera, one month, two hours and thirty eight minutes back in America, I am finally ready to write the summation of my trip to Europe. Let me start out with the disclaimer that all of the thoughts, opinions and expostulations in this work are solely mine, and are not to be taken as any one Else's truth or maxims that need to be followed. This is a short summary of the most life-altering trip I have ever had the privilege to take...even though I tried not to take, but to experience, to love and to accept...to really open my eyes and see.
First I must say that I am glad that I am SAFELY home, I have never felt so much the sting of being hated and looked down upon for being American as I did these six weeks...and the injustice of being poor, because I am from the 'Richest country in the World', 'The Land of Opportunity.' Of being despised for for being a denizen a government who craves the lucre of war...and will go unpunished for declaring it illegally. Had any other country done that...I can only imagine the consequences that they would have suffered. But not my country...not my country. I had never met them before, the people in Europe, but they hated me. Even though I spoke their language, they treated me like American garbage. It is good...good to understand how it feels to be on the other side of hatred...of prejudice. In truth it can be said that it was a trip of extremes, the things I have done stand antipodean to each other: I have stood on the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and stooped low in a prison in Rome where they kept the Apostles Peter and Paul. I have been stuffed with food in Reggio Emiglia and starved in Paris. I have wept in front of the Statue of David and winked at mindblowing graffiti in the same blessed city; Florence. I have attended Sunday Mass in Notre Dame and have been haunted by the Amsterdam streets of the 'Red Light District.' I have aided and abetted criminal activity in Pompei and been spared from being assaulted on a train going from Milan to Genova. I have been kissed on the hand by a Sienese Gentleman and told by a man in a drunken stupor in Arles that I am so big and that I should not eat so much...he said other things which I will perhaps never write down... . I have smiled under rows of EU flags in Brussels where whey are voting on the Black Sea Synergy Cooperation Initiative and I have shivered in the great shadow of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, where out side they were having an immensely graphic demonstration to end torture in China. AND I have been kicked out of the Knightsbridge tube station in London for the very thing that hundreds of people applauded me wildly for in Venice; singing.
I will say that one of the things that hit me hard was the fact that there were almost NO Americans anywhere...it was a little eerie. I find it interesting though that when we DID see the rare American there was this instant kinship, an instant bond solely for the reason of belonging to the same section of map that they call the United States. Then it went to the level of just being drawn to anyone who spoke English as a first language at ALL, the Brits and the Australians, the South Africans. And I had to wonder, thinking Universally, if we were out in the Galaxy somewhere, laboring in some type of interplanetary relations, I am sure that even to meet someone from our same PLANET would cause this same type of bond and feeling, and if that is the case, why can we not feel so now? Love them as one from our own "home" now? For is it not the truth? I think that is why the space program functions so well, with all of the astronauts out there all being from different countries...speaking different languages. I am sure they have their moments, and their arguments, but in the end I bet they look over at one another and think "Oh GOODY!!! A HUMAN!!!
What country are we from?
Coming back to America was one of the most poignant experiences of my life.
I never knew what my own country felt like, but I do now. I experienced the surreal sensation of feeling a stranger in my country of origin when Kath and I were back in LA at the airport, I felt it only twice, and it lasted only seconds, but I did feel it, keenly. It must be what all of the throngs of people feel who come here...I am glad that I got to have wash upon me that feeling, even if only for a moment. Waking up in America on the morning of the 4th of July was so perfect, such a wonderful way to feel this place, feel the idea and the dream that is America. I know that in so many ways the war is terrible, and it is terrible, but may I say, at least as a country (not necessarily the Government, but the PEOPLE of this country), it is wonderful to me that first and foremost in the minds of this people is the freedom of those who are being deprived of it, and that some will give their lives for it, for some one they have never met...so that children can live a life out of jail, so that a little girl can go to school and learn how to read and go on to be what ever she wants to be, so that little boys will be spared the terror of going to war before the age of ten. I am proud to belong to a country that feels like we should do SOMETHING. God Bless us to find balance. So, with that in mind, going to the store to buy hot dogs for the barbecue that we had been invited to and hearing a John Philip Sousa march come over the radio, in the STORE and looking over and seeing a man, probably a veteran, wearing his flag belt buckle (which he probably saves only for special occasions) and white tee shirt with an American flag on it, I just started to cry. I love this place. I AM an American. I love being an American. And before now, I never knew why.
I am seeing now that my experiences are going to be filed away into my memory system in moments, in memories...
One of the funniest things I will always remember was coming out of the Hyde Park Corner Underground station on our way to the Hard Rock Cafe and seeing a bloke with a fabulous mohawk speaking furtively into his cell phone counselling his friend and giving him pointers about how to get the assault charges dropped. And one of the most beautiful, meaningful moments to me, for some reason was actually feeding the birds with my Venetian cookie crumbs in the Piazza Di San Marco in Venice...I will never forget the weight of their little, warm, soft bodies in my hands...and that they flew right to me and softly and gently pecked the cookie crumbs out of my hands...I will never forget it, ever. It made me cry for some reason, it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever known.
But I think the thing that will forever be the most transforming to me, the experience that changed me, I believe, on a cellular level was seeing the actual site, THE ACTUAL CAFE that Vincent van Gogh painted in his immortal creation, "The Cafe Terrace at Night." I looked at it for HOURS, hours and hours. And when we were about to say 'goodbye' to it, knowing that I may never come there again to see it, there in all of it's beauty in Arles, France, I wanted it to be the EXACT scene that Vincent would have seen, most specifically, I wanted that section of night sky to be filled with the same stars that he would have seen, on that early summer night. But no matter how hard I looked, and how late I stayed into the night, I could not see them...not a one. The sky was black. I stood there, almost beginning to cry, I felt that I had in some way failed, failed to see what Vincent saw...but then...I realized...it is quite possible that Vincent didn't see any stars that night in that patch of sky either...but he in fact CREATED them, and in that act made them as real as if astronomers could reckon the exact date by their position in his painting. And it came to me; THAT is oft times what WE must do, to create a way when there IS no way, to paint our OWN stars, even when we don't see them...even when our sky...is black. And by so doing, we are making them as real as any star that ever guided a man, or woman, North. I committed then, right then, to make my own way, to "paint my own stars" just as he must have done. I am the artist of my own life, I am making a way where there is none, I am painting my own stars. I am opening my eyes to really see.
Thank you, Vincent van Gogh, for teaching me that lesson.