‘Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most…’ I have ample reason to quote Mark Twain (‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,’ is still one of my favourites, even if it appears Twain never actually said this), and even this line has left my mouth on numerous occasions. It rings all the more true when thinking about jetlag and the strangely disorienting feeling of being ‘between languages’ or ‘between cultures’. It’s funny because we know who we are (or who we think we are), and no matter where we’ve gone we’ve always taken ourselves with us (presumably), so we really shouldn’t find anything all that unusual about coming back home. The problem is that even as tied to ourselves as we tend to be, ourselves also have a nasty habit of adapting to their surroundings and changing without so much as asking our permission first.
As I walked back to the restrooms at a Ruby Tuesday’s in Atlanta, I received the latest in a series of jolts that caused me to wonder just where I was in space and time. The televisions at the bar were showing baseball instead of the soccer I had expected to see. Leaving Europe in the throes of Euro Cup madness, I had seen people crowded around screens big and small in the Frankfurt and Philadelphia airports, but here there was none of that faux-hawk sporting, foot-balling pastime to be seen. Instead there were the baggy uniforms and hotdog-eating fans associated with the national sport of my homeland, and the taps at the bar read ‘Bud’ and ‘Lite’. Verily, I say unto you, I was back in the States.
My brain had already been very confused during my journey westward. In Munich I had translated Bosnian to German (and vice versa) to help an old couple on their way to visit their son, and navigating the two languages (the first of which I don’t actually speak but, like Serbian, can get by in with a bit of tweaked Slovene) had been an interesting task. I had found it much harder to switch from Slovene back to German than I had to switch from German to Slovene. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, I suppose, as I’ve been living in Slovenia for so long, but German has always been (and still is) my best foreign language, and coming up short, even for a few seconds, was disheartening. I soon got over it, though, as I ran across the airport to catch my flight.
The plane from Frankfurt to Philly was bilingual (at least the flight attendants were, and the automated messages were as well, but it seemed that the plane only spoke Engine), which was interesting because there were definite inconsistencies between the German and English instructions. For one thing, the video with all of the safety information was, as always, painfully detailed in the English version, whereas the German version summarized, for example, the seat belt portion by saying only, ‘Please keep your seat belt fastened while seated.’ It’s as if they know that having the requisite intelligence to find your way to the plane and board it is sufficient for figuring out an airplane seat belt. I was reminded of Virgin’s treatment of the same issue with a statement to the effect of, ‘If you don’t know how to fasten your seat belt then you really shouldn’t be here,’ with an animal easily making the connection next to an irate imbecile who can’t seem to figure it out. Good times.
Four movies later (including Young Frankenstein, thank you very much!), we were in the United States. It was a daytime flight, so sleep was entirely out of the question anyway, but the movies are always (sometimes) so enticing. Exiting the plane meant dividing into US passport holders and the rest of the rabble that sought entry into Eden, and as I stood waiting my turn to be cross-examined about why on earth I had deemed it necessary to leave my native land, I kept catching snatches of English and turning to gawk at what no longer amounted to an anomaly. Even hours later, when sitting in that restaurant and talking to my dad, hearing the English of the patrons around me caught me by surprise. ‘There are Americans over there,’ my brain was saying. ‘How funny is that?’ Oh, you poor brain. You simply weren’t meant to travel so far so fast.
It’s been several days now since I left Europe, and yet I still catch myself starting to speak another language or reaching for my phone to text a friend or wondering what time this week we’ll get together for our Slovene conversation group. It doesn’t matter that one member is in Africa, another in Spain, and I am in Memphis. My mind tells me that I am clearly in Slovenia, it’s just that the way Slovenia looks has changed. It has begun to resemble the South, and not the kind of ‘South’ that’s spelled B-A-L-K-A-N. This will soon fade, but I almost don’t want it to. I enjoy the trippy feeling of being mentally jostled a bit (which explains my taste in movies, books and television), and it’s too bad that things normalize as quickly as they do. But in no time I will be back in Europe, jostling away again from the other side, and I suppose that will be fun, too.
What is really interesting is that my mind and my heart are in such different places. My brain may be telling me that I couldn’t possibly be thousands of miles from my little apartment in Ljubljana, but my heart tells me quite clearly where I am. I am happy to be in Memphis, seeing my family and enjoying the places and things I have been without for the last year. I have friends to see and more family to spend time with, and these are all things my heart tells me are in the here-and-now, regardless of where my mind thinks I happen to be. So for a little while longer I will gasp at the larger cars (and people) that I see on these American roads, but I will be enjoying my time here long after that feeling has subsided. It’s not every day you get to be in two places at once, though, so I’ll welcome those last few jolts and jostles when they come and revel in the strangeness that comes with living in this modern world.