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My Latvian Evening

Posted by on July 26, 2012

Regardless of race, gender, nationality, occupation, or social status… I have always LOVED meeting new people.  For a variety of reasons, the last couple years I had fallen away from this open mentality and been digressing into a state of exclusivity and myopia;  two things I’ve always been fundamentally against.
Thankfully, 2012 is slowly transforming me back into the man I thought I had lost, and restoring a lust for life I nearly let slip away. Go figure, it took an evening out with a new friend to make me fully appreciate this.

A couple weeks ago I met a charming girl, originally from Latvia but now a Swiss resident, who was kind enough to give me a ride home from an ex-pat social meet-up we had both attended.   We got along fairly well, and reconnected again a week later for a few drinks and a midnight walk around the city. We discussed a myriad of topics from traveling, films, literature, and the dichotomy of European and American culture.

For those of you that don’t know me, substitute in any storied European city, and this is essentially my perfect evening.

I made these plans almost out of hand, as a “fun way to spend some time”, not realizing until already on my way to meet her that I was essentially going on a date.  Cue sweaty palms… it’s been a while.

We started off, to our mistake, meeting in a bar smack in the middle of the Basel Tattoo Festival. Beer tents, food vendors, and an evening drizzle greeted me as I stepped off the #8 tram.  Not exactly the atmosphere we had been hoping for, but this place did have two comfortable stools at the bar, and some very inviting bottles of Aperol and Prosecco.

Zwei Aperol Spritz Bitte.

This’ll do just fine.

The evening began pleasantly, exchanging personal histories, interesting anecdotes and a few sly jokes. As we finished our second round, we decided it was time to take a stroll and relocate; and with only three weeks of Swiss Living under my belt, but a lifetime of resourcefulness… I suggested the perfect place.

Walking along the Rhine River to our destination we began to discuss the merits of American vs. European culture. Though she had lived in Boston and New York for a total of 4-5 years, she had a startling difference in opinion between the two iconic cities.

New York she loved.  But Boston… man oh man, what hatred.

Her view stemmed almost exclusively from the fact that she couldn’t seem to find one restaurant, bar, or watering hole that didn’t have a TV.  As she described it, “No matter where you go in Boston all you can experience are people watching TV and eating.”  I found this to be a hysterically funny observation.

As we took the stairs up from the river path into the city, we shared a view/rant on the disparity between Europeans and North Americans being solely an environmental condition.   There are several aspects to consider here, but for the purpose of this discussion we decided to focus on consciousness and appreciation.

Relative to the rest of the world, North America is a fairly “new” continent .  Everywhere you look are new buildings, new monuments, new restaurants, and new billboards… all perpetuating the idea that perhaps history (and art in many cases) don’t particularly matter.

Now don’t mistake me, I think using history alone to guide our future is one of the fundamental  mistakes of human beings, classic lazy logic; but the awareness of history as an influencer of perspective I find much value in; and continental Europe has this in spades.

The awareness of this deep human history in any major European city is nearly impossible to escape. From the cobblestone streets, to the old world architecture and landmarks;  no matter where you turn it’s impossible to not breathe in the realization that there are many that have come before you, and many that will surely come after.

However, it seemed to us, to be a serious defect of too many North American travelers to blow through a sprawling metropolis like Paris or Rome for a couple days, merely to check an invisible bucket list, and show their friends on Facebook  how wonderful their lives are.  Unless you’re <20, I don’t find much excuse for this.

I personally just cannot comprehend visiting a new city bursting with art, history, and wisdom, literally, at every street corner; yet all only coming away with a review that the city is overrun with tourists, is dirty and disorganized.

We defined this personality as the definition of vapid, and the perfect example of people I need to stay away from.  I mean, if you cannot find the beauty in a city like Paris or Rome, my only question is, “What did you expect from a 2000 year old city?”

In contrast, Swiss cities are marvellously clean and superiorly organized, but to judge a major world city – that’s lived through the ages  – based solely on its hygiene and crowd control, well, what we have here is a flawed lens by which to view the world.

As you can tell, our stroll towards our next drink took my friend and I on quite the self-righteous tangent.  And sure, we might admittedly be culture snobs, but it was fun to stand-up on a soapbox made for two for a little while.

We then arrived at our next destination.

She has lived in Basel for two years and yet I’m the first one to show her this place…. meh, this dating stuff ain’t so tough.  😉

Chill Am Rhy  – Set against the Rhine River and lit up like a Christmas tree, not bad Basel, not bad at all.

With yet another Aperol Spritz in hand, I began getting lectured on how comic book movies are a waste of time and the only movies worth watching are those about relationships and real life. This is certainly where I keep my feet planted in North America.

I even thought I was making up some ground on behalf of DC and Marvel, but the debate ended with her considering, maybe, perhaps, one-day if she had nothing else to do, she would watch Batman Begins or The Watchmen…possibly.  On the other hand, I somehow agreed to watch a Woody Allen documentary she recommended at a local theatre a few days later…. which I loved. Go figure.

In an episode of the show House M.D. (One Day, One Room), they suggest the philosophy that our entire lives are a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our life becomes.  And as I watched my date step onto her tram to head home for the evening, with the thoughts of her personal stories and ideas marinating in mind, I realized how incredibly true this is.

The people we choose to have in our lives, no matter for how long or short a time, will either bring us closer or pull us away from who we have the potential to be.

All it took to realize this was a pleasant evening with a pretty Latvian girl.

Europe strikes again.

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