I’m a native Texan. That is to say, my mother went through 48 hellish hours of labor (thanks, Mom!) so that I could be born in to this world, and the place she endured said pain is Texas City, Texas. She told me, when I was little, she choose that particular place for me to be born because it was easy to remember. Also because she had flown from a town very difficult to say correctly (Bayrouth, Germany) and it made a lot more sense, what with my dad loving Texas and all. I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between those tall tales and the one where my Grandmother happened to live near a hospital in Texas City, Texas, at the time and my mother and father needed a place to stay after returning to the states from many years over seas. I come from a long line of story tellers
I am sitting now under the starry night looking directly at Orion’s belt. I am drinking German beer, not because I found it at the local World Market, but because it came from the (supermarket) two blocks from where I sit. There is a church tower around the corner that dates from 1591. I am in Nuremberg. Or Nürnberg, if you’re a local. I hear the Germans on the street below and I am surrounded by the fresh smell of my laundry, the only hint of home that wafts in the dark in the breeze.
I am oddly home.
I have a sense of nostalgia here. It’s as if I’ve lived this life here, or one very similar, in other times. I am lost, in present day, unable to fully communicate except with broken pieces of German. It’s comical, really, when someone walks up to me and I say, “Hallo!” and they say, “Hallo,” and I exchange light talk, “Gruße Grote!” They begin to ask a question and I shake my head, “um.. uh.. er… uh, do you know English?” They laugh kindly, either nodding yes or no, and we smile awkwardly as I admit I am not really from here however much I sometimes forget that fact.
Except that I can never forget that fact.
The cashier at the cantina at work asks me in German what I want to eat. I make weird faces and motions with my hands saying something about Salad and Veggies and No More Bread For The Love Of God and she hands me a lovely sandwich on a thick roll with meat and cheese. I smile, say “Danke” and offer her my cash. She smiles back, say Bitte, and I am on my way to another ten pounds.
This same conversation happens fourteen times a day.
I manage around town on my bike, a borrowed vehicle from a local friend. I am thankful, a thousand times thankful, for my local friend who not only speaks English but also four other languages and has a love of pasta. This means we eat a lot of Italian at real Italian places most of which the cooks speak only Italian and hit on women like a dog on salami.
I marvel at how far I can bike. I breathe heavily as I bike the 12km from Nürnburg to Erlangen where the office is. I arrive breathless and sweaty and I smile as I enter the building, like this is a normal day for me: Just another commute to the office via bike in the villages of Germany. I mean completely nothing special. At all.
Except oh, even the horses here speak German.
I breathe deeply the air, the coveted Nuremberg air, the German-ness (if I may) of the whole experience. How I rarely understand a conversation, how lost I am daily, how nothing is open on a Sunday except two cafes, non of which serve alcohol or protein. But it has been a week now, an entire week of my living here, and I already appreciate what I heard my father saying to me so many years ago. “Oh, Leslie,” he would reflect when I was old enough to listen, “the Germans. GOD BLESS ‘EM. I love the Germans.” The hundreds, or thousands, of stories I’ve heard as a child bring me to this balcony on this day thirty years later, smelling my clean laundry on the line, listening to the Germans below, watching lights in the village flicker on or off. In a way I hardly understand, I am home. Tomorrow I walk the valley of a monastery who serves beer with my boss and her boss. We will walk the woods, drink amazing beer, reflect on work and life in the States. And again I will say to you: I am home. Oddly enough, foreign as I am, I am home.