Why do you do it?

Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I posted anything here, and for anything this is interested, for that I deeply apologize.  I haven’t honestly been really into showing my feelings about travel for a while  now and for a very good reason (or twenty).  Aside from the fact that I have been incredibly busy with my day-job and have been doing a lot of baking, I have been in a real mental hard place for me, hence the topic of this post.

Why do you travel?  Really, why do you do it?  Do you enjoy seeing the sites or trying all of the different and unique foods that you find?  Do you collect things, like clothes or books or antiques?  Do you just love to have (collect?) new experiences and capture new memories that only you and you alone will ever fully appreciate?

I used to think that I travelled more for the sake of it than anything else, and I think that, some part of me feels that way.  I travel as often as I can; as much as time and money will allow.  I used to think that, if I could, I would travel all the time, just collecting those experiences that no one else will ever have.  Like getting lost in Helsinki and walking into a suburb and on the way home, accidentally finding their amazing amusement park and riding on the Ferris wheel.  Or being the first white woman to set foot on a small island in the South Pacific and learn what it’s like to really be the odd one out, in every sense of the word.

As I get older, though, I realize more and more that those really aren’t the reasons that I travel.  Here’s the real reason, truly shown to me as I started to cry (in public) reading a passage in a book from a woman much like me, who was in search of the same thing:

I travel because I am looking for my home.  My real home.  Not that I don’t like the place that I live.  I love my little condo.  It’s a perfect size and a real haven for me (when the dog downstairs isn’t barking, that is).  I live very near to my parents, with whom I am very close, and I really treasure that.  But more and more, I realize that I am not meant to live here; that this isn’t my real home.  I think that that explains, more than anything else, why I haven’t dated anyone since I moved back to the US from Europe the last time.  I just don’t get American guys.  Or most Americans, for that matter.  Why?  I don’t fully know, but I just feel like the odd one out and as an outsider here.  I want to sit at a sidewalk cafe in the evenings with friends, and people here don’t really do that.  I want to go out and drink for the conversations with companions that happens, and Americans haven’t learned how to do that yet.  I don’t understand baseball caps, tennis shows, shouting at waiters or the need to photograph, tweet and post to facebook every single aspect of one’s life.

I don’t know why people don’t go out, but rather, stay at home, binge-watching shows on Netflix or On Demand.  I get lonely, because no one but my parents wants to go to the museums and then to a cafe and discuss what was on display.  No one wants to just take a leisurely time at a meal.  Talking.  Eating.  Enjoying the atmosphere.  That doesn’t happen here.  Buildings are too new.  People have to drive everywhere.  People, especially where I live, aren’t interested in meeting people and making new friends.  Not after high school or possibly college.  They will be nice to you, but never will that really translate into an invitation to join them for a meal or a trip to a movie or anything like that.

And more than that, there is something singularly intangible that I cannot even put into words, but that makes me cry in the US and smile broadly in Europe.  Call it atmosphere, call it whatever you will, but whenever I am in Europe I just become lighter.  Almost another person.  I stop more.  And I mean that in the sense that I don’t feel the incessant need to always be *doing* something.  No.  Instead, I stop.  I have a coffee at a cafe or a glass of wine somewhere and just watch the world.  Or I talk to people.  And there, they not only talk back, they start conversations, invite me to their homes or out with their friends or even into the backs of their restaurants to teach me to make real dumplings, in the case of my time in Shanghai, China.

I travel because I want to find the place where I really belong.  The place where I just naturally feel comfortable.  Peaceful.  Content.  Where people want to be my friends as much I want to be theirs.  The place where I would be happy to just ‘be.’

I have come very close on a number of occasions.  Germany was the first, when I visited my brother while he we stationed there.  Austria was even closer.  I spent a few days in Vienna, and on accident I had a last-minute issue that prevented me from going back to Hungary, so instead went back to Vienna and never regretted it.  Ireland was close, but somehow, not as much as Norway.  There was just a sense of total ease that I felt in these places.  Even Paris, not speaking any French or even really knowing the true Parisian culture, I felt it closely, though I knew all along that it wasn’t *quite* the place for me.  Close, but just not quite.

In about a week, I am taking another trip.  I have chosen to keep it a secret to everyone bu my parents and two trusted friends, so forgive me for not mentioning it here.  I will say this, though.  I feel as though I am getting messages from the universe that this might be “it.”  The one.  I don’t want to jinx it, and I don’t really want to get my hopes up, at least any more than they already are.  But at night, and when I am having a rough day at work, I let myself say “maybe” a few times, and I dream.  Maybe I will meet a friend that I can stay in contact with.  Maybe I will meet someone “special” as my mother and grandmother would say.

Maybe I will, this time, not use my return ticket.  Maybe I will, but immediately file for a visa.  Or maybe this isn’t it, and I will check it off my list and start trying to find time and money to make another trip somewhere else to try it again; getting ever closer each time until I finally find it; sigh to myself, and make that call to my parents letting them know that I won’t be needing them to come and fetch me from the airport.

For anyone out there reading this – especially those that might feel the same way – wish me good luck.  And I wish all of you out there in the same position the same good luck.  I hope that we all manage to find our respective homes, wherever they may be.

Whose Lefse Reigns Supreme?

2 Comments

At this time of year, everyone has a craving for a food that they associate with the holidays, whichever holiday you celebrate.  Some people crave latkes, other people crave their grandmother’s peirogi.  What do I crave?  Lefse.  For the uninitiated, lefse is like the Norwegian version of a tortilla, though usually they are used in a sweet application, not a savory one.  Made out of riced potatoes (strong hands and wrists are required!) or mashed potato flakes, if you are lazy or in a place where you don’t have a ricer, they form the basis of one of my favorite treats during the Christmas season.  Some people take them with loads of butter, others with cinnamon and sugar, some with all three.  Me?  I like them served warm with a healthy dose of cinnamon and maybe a little light coating of sugar.  Or sometimes, for breakfast, dunked in maple syrup (that must be the American in me).  The sad part is that I don’t have the space, the money or the tools that I need to make them properly, so I am generally reduced to enjoying them only during a few wonderful weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  But then, I suppose that that ensures that they remain special, right?

Now, I have been eating lefse for as long as I can remember and I have had it in a lot of different places; from here in the US to Norway, where it originated.  This brings up the question:  Where can you find the best lefse?  Was it found in Norway, land of its birth?  Or was it the potato-flake version that a friend in Malta made one year for a celebration, using only a banged up, scorched frying pan and a stove that couldn’t control heat?

The lefse made in Malta was, let’s just say, edible.  It served its purpose.  No one would write home to their mother to tell her how much better it was than hers, but it was serviceable.  Edible, like I said.  The accomplishment was not in the flavor, but rather in the fact that my friend was able to use store flaked potatoes, water and butter, along with the only tools available to her at the time:  a small frying pan, turned over to create a larger, flatter surface; a stove that had to be lit using a match and which rarely held a flame for long enough to heat soup, let alone make lefse; a spatula that was more like a rather large spoon and a mixing bowl that was clearly not large enough.  It must have taken her a long time to get even one that worked, but I remember watching her, listening to Maltese pop radio in the background, occasionally interrupted by her roommates coming in asking her what on earth she was doing, and smelling the faint whif of charred frying pan.  It was beautiful.  The steam between that and the tea that was boiling on the stove created was so great that it fogged up the glass doors to the flat, making it look very dubious what was going on in there.  Only when we emerged to the party with fresh lefse, covered in melted butter and cinnamon and sugar did people realize the alchemy that could elicit such delicious treats.

Now, I also had it in Norway, in Oslo in fact, while travelling there with my parents a few years ago.  We were at the outdoor museum, and they were making it fresh, from scratch, in one of the houses and then handing them out for chump change, given the quality of the product.  Warm, almost too warm, with perfect coloring (no scorch marks in sight, but a nice golden color all around) and rolled and filled with any of the previously mentioned fillings that you wanted, they were a joy.  The sun was shining, the air was clear, and you could see the beautiful forest in the distance.  We were already having a wonderful time there, and this was simply the icing on the cake.  You could tell that the quality was the highest possible; well, you would expect nothing less, since this was lefse meant to show off the abilities of the Norwegians to create great food – food for tourists.  It was grand, I admit.  But, you know what?  It wasn’t the best.

The best lefse that I have ever eaten, and which I still reminisce about every year, was made by my aunt, Judy, in her kitchen in North Dakota.  Did she have all of the equipment necessary to make them perfect; from the ricer to the pan?  You know what, I don’t even remember.  What I do remember is that it was the last Christmas that my entire father’s side of the family was able to gather together, my grandmother included, before she finally succumbed to dimentia and moved to a nursing home.  It was dark outside, multiple tables had been pushed together in their living room to accommodate everyone, and the tree was lit, with presents beneath it.  The house was warm from all of the cooking and baking going on, and everyone was drinking, talking and eating.  I by my grandmother and listened to her tell me stories about how Christmas used to be, back when my brother and I were too young to remember and he and I couldn’t wait to open our gifts, and wasn’t it nice that we were now old enough (both adults, by this point) to sit and enjoy dinner and not get distracted by the pretty wrapping and boxes on the floor?  The rest of the meal was typical for us; lasagna (it easily fed everyone and didn’t take too much time or effort to prepare) and garlic bread.  Then, my aunt brought out the lefse.  I don’t think that anyone else really cared very much about it.  It wasn’t as if it was something that had never eaten before, bu somehow, for me at least, it was magical.  My mother is German and I never grew up eating it except when we went up north to visit my relatives, and even then it wasn’t always there.  Lefse is tricky to make well and it takes dedication.  So the fact that my aunt made some that year was very special to me.  It was perfect.  It was warm, served folded, not rolled, and covered in just the faintest hint of cinnamon and sugar and butter.  Just enough to add flavor, but not so much that you couldn’t revel in the potato-y goodness underpinning it all.  My grandmother and I both ate our fair share, and although I don’t think that anyone noticed, I alter snuck back into the kitchen and took another few pieces, now less warm, but no less perfect.

Following that year, my family got together less and less often, and every time with fewer members.  That was many years ago, now that I think about it, but i can still remember it so well.  And the lovingly, perfectly made lefse was the cap to it all.  eating lefse now, even inferior lefse, never fails to bring back those treasured memories.  That’s why, above all others, that lefse was and will always be the best.

Merry Christmas!