I've read about culture shock before, but I'd never actually experienced it until now. I think I've always been delighted by the idea of not recognizing my own country prima facia, of seeing my native land the way a foreigner does if only for a few moments. It excites me, that basic idea. To see the streets of Chicago with fresh, curious + rapacious eyes. It means, I can love my city, I can recreate my city all over again, one street + apartment cornice + carved stone balcony + half-life memory at a time like the narrator in Borges's "Circular Ruins," creating his son one body part at a time in his dreams. It's a creative process where you never feel immune to beauty. After all, familiarity, on some basic level, is immunity. When we become familiar with places, which is really, the experience of sifting through memory connected to space + time, we stop being affected by those places, we stop exploring what they mean to us until we're lost again, until we're exiled by time.
Other moments, I know I'm in Chicago, but I'm afraid we'll fly to another continent any day now until we're stuck in the marshes of debt + knee-deep in the rich dyes of travel again, possibly transported during naps + extended daydreams inside the din of cafés.
Even Zoe, our Shia-Poo, worries that we're living transparently, flickering between realities + portals like fickle atoms dancing under obsolete electron microscopes. Sometimes, she curls up on our suitcases which we still use for some of our clothes since there isn't enough space in our bedroom for Argentina.
Since I've been back, every time I wake up I wonder if I'm in Buenos Aires for a second. Sometimes, I actually fear it's Marrakech + LB + I are stuck in the Médina again, counting the seconds until the night blots out the natural light like someone nailing shut the windows of a condemned house. Often, part of me feels like we're returning to Argentina any time now, as if Chicago + our trip through West Europe + Morocco were a simple lapse of destination, not part of our return back to Chicago. I know that even if LB + I don't call our apartment in Palermo Viejo our home anymore (LB never did, actually), we've still spent the last year in a world where the experience of time is different than it is in America. Time was slow + painful, calm + deceitful; in Argentina, the time contemplates, becomes distracted, slows down + twists its temporal fabric into small loops of redundant motion, simultaneously acclerating experience + slowing down time. Until we arrive in LA, South America is a tireless remainder of images that goes on and on inside my mind, several years past the decimal point.
Here are some facts which explain my mindswirl:
1. Four continents in four weeks (South America, North America, Europe + Africa). How do you explain that to someone without sounding like a jet-setter?
2. Eight countries in thirty days (Argentina, the US, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland + Morocco). Which language do you speak in?
3.Twelve cities in one month (Buenos Aires, Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lille, Geneva, Madrid, Marrakech, Casablanca, Sitges + Barcelona). How can you have an opinion of one city when they all start to bleed together?
4. Nineteen Legs of Our Journey:
Buenos Aires to Chicago
Chicago to Paris
Paris to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Brussels
Brussels to Lille
Lille to Paris
Paris to Geneva
Geneva to Paris
Paris to Irún
Irún to Madrid
Madrid to Casablanca
Casablanca to Marrakech
Marrakech to Casablanca
Casablanca to Madrid
Madrid to Barcelona
Barcelona to Sitges
Sitges to Barcelona
Barcelona to Paris
Paris to Chicago
How do you get your mind around that?
Even if part of me is still several thousand miles away, slowly returning to a city + a country that once haunted my thoughts back in the dirty, vibrant, frenetic streets of Buenos Aires, I love Chicago, in part because she is complex enough that I have to create a new relationship with her, starting from a new beginning.