Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Vacation

Three weeks is a long time to be gone from one's normal life. It feels like we're different people - jetlagged, different people.

I'll offer a few impressions as a full account would be unrealistic.

The Lorax loves his grandparents. He loves seeing cars and trucks and trains and airplanes. Best of all, he loves to sit alone in "Gampa's car" erotically stroking all the buttons. He loves his brother, whom he sees for a week every few months. In fact, he does everything his older brother does, which is cute, comical and a little annoying to his brother. He is at a wonderfully impressionable age, where he is still young enough not to be embarrassed by anything.

Coming off a rollercoaster at Great America, he exclaimed (in translation) "dangerous train. Fun. Not the end". Sitting in a lazy boat ride, an attendant was swatting at a fly, and he waved back with a big smile, because he loves the world and it loves him back.

Andreas, my 6(almost 7)-year old son, expresses his emotions differently. We had some good times, but I am nothing but a pleasant distraction in his life. He thinks of me as his dad only because he has grown up with no other meaning to the word. He is so easily distracted that I worry that he has ADD. It's impossible to ask him a question and get a straight answer. I will ask about whether summer school is done, and he volunteers information about a superhero he just drew. As we were saying goodbye, he seemed completely unaware that I would disappear again for months. Still, we had some good times. He seems pretty happy with his life and is doing better in school.

Natali stayed the whole summer with her mom. She adores her new step-sisters and the best night of the whole summer was when they biked to Kwik Trip to get candy and stayed up till 3 am. She didn't do much while in La Crosse and seems to accept that she is back in Denmark for another year.

The best moments for me all occured in Duluth. For a little background, I lived in Duluth for a year when I was 20. I love the town, Lake Superior, the North Shore and the feeling of being at the edge of the world. That's where I met my first wife but we only visited Duluth for day trips over the years.

It's been a dream for me to move to Duluth (or Marquette, but for people who know both towns, they have many things in common). Duluth has such a cool history; it used to be bigger than it is now, which means it has a surprisingly regal downtown and very little sprawl. The geography is unique and reminds me of La Crosse. La Crosse is squeezed in between the river and the bluffs with zero room to expand. Duluth has expanded from the lake shore beyond the hills but there is the same feeling that geography played a commanding part in city planning.

We stayed at the William S Burrows Bed and Breakfast. We were supposed to stay in Duluth for just two days but because of the miscarriage and the fact that we forgot our passports, we ended up staying there five days. One day, there was a roaring storm sweeping in from the range. We were driving back from Gooseberry Falls, where the Girl had biked (having just run Voyageur) and I had run 20 miles on the trails. The rain got heavier; we needed some food and I got completely soaked springting from the car to Super One. We spent the afternoon in bed, from where we could see a sliver of Lake Supoerior out of the open windows. Best afternoon ever.

I thought I had the Girl convinced that Duluth is, indeed, the perfect place to live. But no, she says it's too cold. Besides, the chance that the two hospitals up there will be looking for an ophthalmologist and a hematologist in the same time frame is very slim. But one can dream, right?

US traffic. Hmm. Americans are nice people and this is reflected in their driving. My commute to and from Copenhagen is a war on wheels. In and out of the passing lane, letting faster cars by, while trying not to be slowed down by slower cars. I have gotten used to this kind of traffic and suddenly I'm on I-94/I-90 and people are passing each other insanely slowly. One semi is going 66 mph and a guy is going 68 (both on cruise, no doubt). Why should he be bothered to speed up when passing, just because there are ten cars waiting behind him? No one gets mad, beeps or flashes headlights like they do in Denmark. I used to have a one hour commute in the US and I never noticed this stuff before! By the end of the trip, I had wound down and didn't get bothered by it anymore, although I still noticed it. I had the same experience in grocery stores, where the lines aren't necessarily longer than in Denmark (often, they are much shorter) but the pace is toe-curlingly slow. Danes? They get bitchy and yell for more registers to open. Americans? They pick up a gossip magazine and leaf through it.

Wildlife in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Girl pointed this one out. Everywhere we went, there were bunnies, deer, squirrels, foxes, insects, birds and fish. The forests were so thick you could see no further than 20 feet into them. It sounds like millions of crickets, birds and frogs are screaming at each other. Stopping to pee on the Superior Hiking Trail, I kept getting the feeling that tentacles would come out of the thick brush and attack my penis, possibly dragging me into the undergrowth to smother me. Neither of us had been aware of this difference before and we agreed that it had to be due to the fact that Denmark is so much farther north than Wisconsin.

Health care in the US. Contrary to what you may read and hear, the health care that the average American enjoys is far superior to what I see in Denmark. Far superior. The cost is much higher in absolute dollars and percentage of GDP, of course, but I'm strictly talking about the quality of care. The Girl and I came in to the ER in Duluth and, within an hour, got an ultrasound done. Within two hours, the result of the beta-HCG was called to us. In terms of outcomes, one could argue that both are unneccesary, and the Girl proved this by passing several big clots within a few hours. In terms of peace of mind, however, the approach was excellent, since we knew what had happened and what was to come.

Funny moment in the ER. The ER doc had a medical student with her. They were both nervous, as providers always are when they treat other providers. The Girl talked about the 50 mile race that she had just done, and the medical student later returned with an abstract from a Danish study showing that running in pregnancy is safe. The Girl may be the person in the world who has read the most studies about exercise in pregnancy and knew this study quite well, so for a while she forgot about the miscarriage and talked about one of her favorite topics.

Watching Voyageur is way more fun than running it! I remembered last year's suckfest vividly, as I served as manservant to the Girl. She took it pretty easily but was still crabby enough to yell at me for being to talkative. A great time, all in all. This year, I was also able to enjoy the post-race dinner and meet some interesting people.

We met Steve Quick and Helen Lavin for a run in St. Paul. It was weird, to say the least, at first, to be so full of preconceptions about them and yet meet them for the first time. It turned out to be a genuinely good time and it would be great to get to know them better. The big question for me before the encounter was to find out more about the enigma known as Steve Quick. In non-blogging life, I am known for gross exaggerations woven into my generally truthful stories. I sensed some of the same in Steve Quick, like when he told us that Basque separatists got so sick of him in the basement of an undisclosed Dutch museum that they paid for his trip back to the US. All told with a wink and a smirk, of course.

The food. I got to run a ton and still gained four pounds. I attribute this to being on the road so much. We ate out more than daily compared to bi-weekly in Denmark. I'm hoping it'll come off easily.

And now we are back. This trip resembled what we did last summer but it will be the last of its kind. If Natali truly is summoned back to Wisconsin next year, we'll spend the summer seeing Europe. By that time, it'll be high time for us to move back, too, and a good old-fashioned European vacation would seem in order. Natali wants to go north to Sweden and Norway. We shall see.


SteveQ said...

Okay, the Euskara didn't actually pay for my trip back, but they did make it possible.

I lived in Duluth for a year, or a long weekend that seemed like a year.

The pictures show what you say - the Lorax is either watching his brother or trying to mimic him - it's cute, if you're not his brother!

PiccolaPineCone said...

Among the many other things Duluth has going for it, it is the hometown of one Robert Zimmerman, who the world now knows as Bob Dylan. This will probably not help convince SLG, I may be the only fan crazy enough to actually be swayed by this factoid.

SteveQ said...

Bob Dylan's from Hibbing, not Duluth. He left in the 1960's and never has been back.

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PiccolaPineCone said...

SQ: Robert Zimmerman a.k.a. Bopb Dylan was BORN in Duluth. I guess your comments opens the philosophical discussion of what it means to BE from somewhere. How much history and living must one have associated with a place in order to be from there? I guess I should not highjack the comment's section of Fast Bastard's blog to open that discussion though.

Fast Bastard said...

Steve, are you really suggesting you don't like Duluth? Or maybe it was just a really cold winter weekend?

PiccolaPinecone, Bob Dylan was indeed born in Duluth, at SMDC where I rotated as a medical student. The Zimmermans moved to Hibbing when he was 6. I don't know the details of this but there is a general consensus that while Duluth claims Bob Dylan as their native son, he doesn't give the place much thought.

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Anonymous said...

Subtlety is better than force. ......................................................................