Home Is 4,600 Miles Away From Home

November 17, 2010 marked a big personal anniversary, my ten years in the US. Ten years ago when I was in my 20s I came in this country for the first time, without having any idea how long I would stay for. Ten years later, here I am, living in my adoptive country, my adoptive home. And I’m not complaining, not a bit.

Why did I come here? Well, I came here for a guy, an American I had met in Edinburgh, Scotland where I studied for my master’s degree.  After we finished our studies in the UK, we wanted to stay together. We decided it would be easier if I would come to the US, to see if I liked it, and maybe we could start a life together. I landed in Boston on November 17, 2000. My first impression of the airport was that of a dump: it was under construction, no signs anywhere, it looked like a small town airport remnant from the 1970s. I was pretty sure Boston was a big city, it had to be better than that, right? This is the area that MIT and Harvard call home? Horrors! The then boyfriend picked me up and we drove straight to Maine. It was dark as we were driving out of Logan, and having caught a glimpse of East Boston only, I could not stop thinking how ugly Boston looked. We stayed in Bar Harbor, Maine for a couple of weeks. Lovely town, but I, a city girl, could not see myself staying there for a long time. I wanted to see more places, I wanted to explore the new country.

One of the first things I noticed in the US was how big everything was. Big roadways, big cars, big distances, big pieces of furniture,  big portions of food, big people. And then I noticed that everybody drove everywhere, walking seemed to be an almost forgotten ability of the human body. Gas was astonishingly cheaper than it was in Europe. My impression of the Americans was that they were extremely friendly and open. Back in Edinburgh, we considered the American students loud and obnoxious, but visiting here I found Americans to be better than that. People that we didn’t know too well, would have us stay at their house, they would let us borrow their car. They would always be nice. Having conversations with them I discovered how removed they are from international affairs and situations. They would sincerely ask questions like “Have you ever seen snow?” (answer: yes, it does snow in Greece), “Have you ever eaten pizza?” (answer: Yes. I’ve eaten pizza in Italy, actually, which by the way, is next to Greece), “What language do you speak in Greece? English?” (answer: Greek, from which a good portion of English words is derived.)

Oh, yes, the language! I had studied British-English since I was 10 years old, so I had to adjust to the American-English spelling, the American accent and to same words having different meanings. I learnt that pavement here means roadway and not sidewalk, colour is color, kerb is curb, programme is program, tyre is tire, jewelery is jewelry,  laboratory is pronounced quite differently, and oh, my God, these people don’t know meters and kilos! And, wait, what do you mean there are 12 inches in a foot? A measuring unit that’s not decimal-based?! Well, at least, there are 100 cents in a dollar, thank goodness.

In the beginning it amazed me how flat the Northeast is. From Maine, to New Hampshire to Boston I found the terrain pretty flat. In Greece wherever you are, almost always there is a mountain in the horizon.  Here, it is almost difficult to find a place with a nice panoramic view. But I got used to it. The then boyfriend got a job in Manchester, NH, where we moved to. Same there, everybody drove everywhere. The lack of decent public transportation came as a shock. I used to walk to the center of the town, and I wouldn’t meet any other pedestrian. The center was dead and boring. It seemed that everybody was hanging out at the shopping mall. And with every visit to Boston, which turned out to be a very beautiful city offering  a million interesting things to do, the need to move closer grew urgent.

At some point while living in Manchester, NH I got bored enough doing nothing and I started looking for a job. The task turned out to be relatively easy. (Those were the days.) Employers were open to hiring a foreign engineer, and the interviews weren’t that difficult. ( I remember I had an interview in Edinburgh, for a GIS position and the questions were very technical, detailed and tough, none of the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years stuff I was asked here.) I got my first job here at a South Boston surveying & engineering firm. The owner of the company was an older German gentleman, who confided that he prefers to hire Europeans, as they are more hard-working than Americans. Interesting, I thought. After a little while, I got used to inches, feet and miles, I learned the terminology, and a whole new set of rules and regulations.

After six months it was time to move. My crazy commute from Manchester, NH to South Boston had to be reduced, so we moved to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, and a couple of years later in Ball Square in Somerville. Lots of things were happening and time was going by.  I met interesting and not so interesting people, people seemed to like chatting me up, especially when waiting for the red line or the green line, or the mighty No 7 bus. I made some friends. The personal relationship worked out until it didn’t. At some point tired from renting and moving, I bought a little place, and for the past three years I’ve been living in Cambridge. I also changed jobs, from the engineering firm in South Boston to an engineering firm in Somerville, and then on to the public sector, my third job now, where I recently had my fourth year anniversary, and I am pretty happy with it.

And I’m pretty happy with my adoptive city. The Boston area is, honestly, awesome. Sometimes we forget to appreciate its beauty. Just think of the view of the city and the Charles river, when the red line train goes over the Longfellow Bridge, and you’ll see what I mean. Boston seems to me pretty European, a walkable city with decent public transportation options. There are many parks and always some relaxing path or trail to walk or bike on to clear the mind. It’s a youthful city, all these college kids make it feel young. You get the opportunity to learn and try out new stuff. I took guitar, modern & jazz dance, drawing, yoga, photography and video classes in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge. There are so many things going on all the time. My favorite bands will always play in Boston, there is a rich theatre scene, plenty of galleries, museums, art house cinemas, restaurants, bars. This area offers high quality of life and top-notch options. In other words, you cannot be bored here, and I am deeply grateful for that.

Sometimes people ask me if I ever go back to live in Greece again. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but at this point I’m not planning on moving back. I visit Greece once  a year, every summer to enjoy the beaches and the sea. Sometimes I look at a map and see how far Boston is from Greece, and only then does it occur to me that I live on a different continent now. Sometimes I think that I never planned on living on a foreign land, I didn’t plan on emigrating, but things just happened. This land is not foreign to me anymore.  Home is where I stand, home is where I live. Sometimes when I say ‘home’ I mean Greece, other times I mean the US. Yes, home is 4,600 miles (that is 7,400 kilometers) away from home. And that is quite alright.

The Music of Super Bowl XLV

I didn’t care much about the Super Bowl, simply because I don’t really care about football. I don’t know the game, I can’t follow what’s going on, as I’m not familiar with the rules. Nevertheless, I found myself watching last night’s game between the Packers and the Steelers. I thought I’d be more interested in the game if I rooted for a team, and I chose team allegiance based on the team’s name: “Steelers” sounded more compelling, fierce and powerful than “Packers”. A both mildly lame and mildly legitimate way to choose a team, so there I was, a Steelers’ fan. I also managed to pick up the general idea of the game and some rules, and in the end I was somewhat able to follow the game.

Before the actual game started, Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem. I could not tell what she was singing, as she sang in the irritating way of spreading every syllable over several notes (a singing style known as melisma). Not to mention her insistence on screaming the high notes. As it turns out, she mangled some words too: instead of singing “O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming,” she sang “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last reaming” according to the NYTimes, or “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming” according to the BBC. Well, pretty awful either way.

In a statement after the performance she said “I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through (…)”. No, actually the true spirit didn’t come through, as she effectively destroyed a very beautiful song with her vocal gimmicks, unnecessary vocal embellishments and exaggerated belting. The way she chose to sing the anthem shows disrespect. During rehearsals somebody should have told her: “It is not about you and your ego, it is about the song and the nation’s pride”.

Then, it was the half-time show, where the Black Eyed Peas provided the entertainment. Honestly, it looked more like a  comedy show than a music show. They and their dancers wore ridiculous outfits. I anticipated singing, I got a screeching cat instead. I hated how they used the beloved song “Misirlou” as base for one of their “songs”, an act very close to sacrilege, if you ask me. And then they were joined by Slash of Guns N’ Roses, and Fergie sang “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in a badly-imitating-Axl-Rose way. Admittedly, rather a feat to pull off.

Rob Harvilla of The Village Voice wittily describes (and defends?) their performance. The piece reeks of defeat, basically admitting that the Super Bowl half-time show will always suck. The Fergie comment is spot-on:

[Fergie] [is] [t]errible in a stupendously charming way, like reality television, like Taco Bell, like chillwave. The perfect avatar for an era where pitchiness is a virtue, where amateurs are more famous than professionals, where to be too good at something is to invite accusations of elitism.

The reality of the last part of the sentence, that we live in an era, “where to be too good at something is to invite accusations of elitism” is awfully painful. But unfortunately, true as well.

My New York City Weekend

I visited New York City for the weekend. I really dig NYC, but I hadn’t visited since June, so it was about time. I took the bus, which overall was not an unpleasant experience. I went to the MoMA on Friday, which is now a NYC tradition for me, to go there Fridays after 4:30pm only, when admission is free. You can call me cheap. I saw a special exhibition on modern drawing and hated most of it, because I can’t really appreciate art that looks like it was done in five minutes by a five-year old. I love drawing, and I hope crappy art does not make me hate it. Nice try, though. I ate roasted chestnuts. I love roasted chestnuts and I haven’t been able to find them anywhere in Boston. Why not, Boston?

I went to Brooklyn. Specifically, I went to Red Hook at night looking for a club, walking under elevated railroad tracks in a seedy industrial area. The Muffs played live there. I observed higher concentration of hipsters than in Manhattan. Red Hook smelled like death. After the show I walked towards the opposite direction I came from, only to find out that in Brooklyn people like shovelling their houses’ front steps half, or not at all. A couple of girls asked “where’s a shop around here?” A shop. I said I didn’t know. I didn’t bother to ask what kind of shop.

I stayed at a hotel on Murray Hill, and my room was gigantic for NYC standards. It was on the 32nd floor, with a pretty nice view. There was even a kitchen in the room, which I didn’t use. I mean, I don’t even use the kitchen in my condo, why bother now. The hotel porter was creepy, looked like he was in the wrong decade, an escapee from the ’30s. He was wearing a long black jacket and a fedora, and kept another set of them on a chair in the lobby. I’m pretty sure he “knows people”. I saw many other people wearing weird clothes. I also saw many weird-looking people.

People in NYC say “dawg” instead of “dog” and “stawrs” instead of “stars”. And if you are in a store waiting to pay for something, they say “next on line, please” instead of “next in line, please”. They’re funny like that, but I’m guessing I’m even funnier.

I went to the American Museum of Natural History for the first time. I liked the section in biodiversity and the underwater creatures. Whales, dolphins, fishes, squids. And yes, I saw the squid and the whale. I especially liked the bioluminescence section, featuring fish that looked like were having an S&M party, and a jelly fish that flashed different colors and looked like it could easily have been used as night club lighting. Bioluminescence stands for party.

I walked through  snowed Central Park, it was beautiful. I then went to the Metropolitan Museum. It had been a while since my last visit there, it was nice to see a couple of lovely El Greco’s and the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand photo exhibition, among others. I overdosed on culture, you can tell.

I went to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. The ladies to guys ratio in Hoboken is one to four. I saw the Muffs again. I saw an “Oral and maxillofacial surgery” sign at a doctor’s office. I had no idea what maxillofacial is, but it certainly sounded grand. And scary.

I took the subway a lot. Most of the stations look like they’re falling apart, but at least the trains were running smoothly. Unless it’s a Saturday and you’re waiting for a train that doesn’t run on weekends; and just like Boston, there’s no sign to inform you of that. It’s that moment that you feel like an outsider: everybody is in the know, except you. I saw puke by a public telephone. I’m amazed, but also glad that there are still public telephones around, for those who use them, like drunk people ready to puke. I saw a giant rat on a subway platform taking his good old-time walking among people, towards his subject of desire, a trash can. He was a cool one. I witnessed an argument between two teenager cousins. One loudly demanded “respect” because his attire was more expensive than the other’s. The other didn’t seem to care that much, although he looked slightly embarrassed. I somehow got involved in their argument, and the loud one told me “Miss, look at my shoes,they cost $250, his cost $60, hahaha only $60! Look at him, I will give him my hat to go beg for money. I bought him his jacket. And look at my watch, look at the diamonds!” “Wow, are they real?” I asked. “Yes, of course they’re real, this watch is $400!”. Well, that settles everything then. I didn’t really understand if I was being asked to judge their looks, or their styles. I told them they both looked fine and cool. I should have added “respectful”. But what I really wanted to say was “Hey kid, pull your pants up, you’re wearing them low, below your butt and I can see your underwear.”

I walked around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It was very white, so much pure snow covering everything. Oh, yes, I forgot the occasional yellow and brown snow. It was pretty nice. Then I visited the Brooklyn Museum for the first time. I’m not sure how this museum is organised, but it is certainly not organised by era. That was a little confusing, but interesting museum overall.

I ate and drank a lot. I walked a lot. I walked in the slush a lot. I walked on snow a lot. I got excited whenever I saw a Duane Reade, a pharmacy where you can buy aspirin, beer and sushi. Oh, yeah, and I saw a bar named “Dive Bar” somewhere uptown. I should check it out next time, I can’t wait to “tawk” to the regulars.