Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I traveled home to Ohio on 11 March to sing the Mozart Requiem with the Ashland Symphony and teach workshops as a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist for the state of Ohio, but mostly to visit with family and friends. I had no idea how it would feel to go home. Would I be so comforted by the familiar, the ease of understanding everything around me that I would never want to leave again? Or would the culture of excess and abundance disturb me so much that I would go running back to Slovenia? Actually I had neither response. It was indeed comforting to be able to understand announcements in the airport, read the signs and purchase a drink with words rather than waving and pointing hand signals, but now I also am able to understand all the conversations around me. Living in a country where I understand just a few words in each sentence has made it possible for me to pull in my antennas when I am in a crowd and contemplate my own thoughts rather than the thoughts of those around me [not that my thoughts are so profound, but at times they are more stimulating than conversations between couples or parents and young children]. But now that I am in the U.S. and everyone is speaking English loudly I am in the midst of everyone’s conversation. Like a magnet my thoughts bounce back and forth to the closest, loudest, most animated conversation until I have no thoughts of my own. It took me a distressingly long time to be able to block out all the nonsensical noise pollution

After two weeks of being at home I am still very confused. Home does not feel like home. It doesn’t feel foreign, but it also does not have the cozy comfort of home. The cities are lacking aesthetics, buildings are abandoned boarded up, trash is scattered along the sidewalks cluttering the grass and clogging the pours of the earth. Self-promotion blinds drivers on the roads and clutters the brain in restaurants, stores, magazines, T.V. and radio. Automobiles are enormous with only the driver in a vehicle expanded enough for seven. Music blares in elevators, stores, restaurants, competing with T.V. news and sports blasting over top of the deafening din so that we loose our voices trying to have pleasant meaningful conversation. Abundance over flows in the groceries, the clothing stores and the bookstores, bigger and more breeds so much waste that there are stores that practically give the clothes away. But it is an abundance of poor quality cheaply made garments lacking in style, quality, longevity and made by poor slaving women in developing nations. It is this cheap abundance that makes everyone in the U.S. capable of having much more than he/she needs. Does wealth lead to abundance – abundance to waste – waste to the aesthetic soulless poverty of the ugly?

Everywhere there is carryout food and drink, paper, plastic styrofoam surrounding nourishment consumed while driving, watching T.V. , dashing in a hurry. Food is simply for sustenance enhanced with salt, fat, and sugar so that it very quickly becomes unhealthy. Carryout is not even a concept that has been realized in Slovenia. Yes you can get pizza delivery, but to eat on the run is unheard of. So people include healthy food consumption together as a part of their day along with having a coffee with friends.

On an Ohio brilliant sunny blue-sky day, sidewalks are empty of walkers and in new consumer areas no one is expected to walk so the investment has not even been made in sidewalks. Drivers circle parking lots diving for the closest parking space rather than walking while concrete bleeds over the earth blocking the breath of the world. What saddens me the most is that these unhealthy manifestations of our American culture is the way the rest of the world seems to be judging themselves and they are desperately destroying their own countries to live up to our standard.

Yet in the U.S. people are more pleasant. They greet strangers on the street with a smile, a hello. They make room for others on the sidewalk or adjust their pace to accommodate someone else in their space. They talk and make jokes in an elevator and make eye contact with strangers. Americans show their private face and personality in public while the Slovenes seem to be very selective as to whom they open up to. The Slovenes are not as unfriendly as them seem, they are just much more cautious and selective than Americans.

There is also so much more diversity in the U.S. People on the streets have faces from all over the world. Food from all cultures can be enjoyed in restaurants and purchased at common grocery stores and the diversity, despite the problems, provides the U.S. with a cultural richness unknown to Slovenes.

Priorities seem to be different too. For many people I know in Ohio the priorities appear to be listed as: 1. Work 2. Family 3. Religion 4. House/yard care 5. Friends 6. Leisure time. In Slovenia the list appears to be: 1. Family 2. Friends 3. Leisure time 4. Work 5. House/yard care and religion is a part of the week for some, but it does not appear to be the same kind of social activity. Cultural priorities determine much about the way people interact with each other, how their cities are designed and how they respond to their world. In Slovenia shopping is not a leisure time activity, but hiking in the woods, on the bike path or strolling along the city sidewalks is. Therefore the U.S. has far too many shopping malls and the Slovenes have hiking paths everywhere. How wonderful that Bob and I have the opportunity to live where the collective priority list is closer to our personal list.