Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Proud to be an American...

Okay, it has been WAY too long since I have written a post. I really have no decent excuse except that life has been WAY too busy. Thankfully, life is beginning to slow down a bit and our badly needed fall break last week has re-energized me. What better time to get back to writing than sitting in front of the TV and watching CNN as the votes begin to trickle in back in the States. After being in Lux for a year, I feel like I have assimilated pretty well to the more laid-back life in Europe. Despite living in a country where English is not one of the official languages, it is exceedingly easy to spend the majority of your time among other Americans or other English speaking residents. Thanks to the Internet, keeping up with what is going on back in the US is just a simple click away.

Last week the kids and I travelled to Budapest, Hungary. The weather was not the best. Honestly, it really wasn't particularly great anywhere in Europe. It rained most of the time, but thankfully it didn't dampen our moods or our experience. The city itself was lovely and definitely merits another trip during the summer, or at least a time when hopefully my husband will be able to join us. We spent our days doing the typical tourist thing, taking long walks to see the sites, catching the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus to get the lay of the land, and enjoying the beautiful Danube River and the comfort-food Hungary is known for. Having done a little research ahead of our trip, I wanted to make sure the boys learned a bit about the history of this wonderfully historical city, including its very complicated and harrowing past. This country not only suffered from the horrifying rule of the Nazis and the loss of 600,000 Jewish lives, they continued to suffer for decades under they heavy hand of communism and the fear their leaders instilled in them. There was so much to see in Budapest, but the most moving highlights of the trip were our visits to the Synagogue and to the House of Terror. Both gave us a small glimpse of what life was like for folks who were stripped of their rights and their freedom. Such a humbling experience.
Beautiful Budapest - the Danube River

We kept very busy during the days, but we spent our nights leading up to Halloween re-watching the Harry Potter movies and pulling up Slingbox on our laptops to see how the Northeast was doing as Hurricane Sandy came ashore. It really was mesmerizing to see how quickly a relatively low-grade storm could wreck havoc on such a large section of the country in so short a time. My heart immediately went out to friends of mine here in Luxembourg who were anxious to hear word from their family and friends back in the States and learn what the status was of their cities and homes.

It's hard to remember what life was like pre-Internet or iPhone. I do remember being in LA when the Northridge earthquake hit. Joe and I had only been married for a few months and had gone to sleep just hours before the earthquake hit. Our little apartment in Studio City was usually well lit from the lights shining through the blinds from the Ventura Highway. When the earthquake hit, all of the lights in LA went out. I remember Joe and I literally hanging on to the sides of the bed, trying to keep from being flung onto the floor. We had had a few tremors for weeks leading up to the quake, but this one was unbelievably loud and harsh, throwing everything side to side. Once the quake ended, we bolted out of bed. In my case, I rolled over right on to our dresser which had fallen over. We scrambled to find clothes and shoes as the first after shock came. Not being from California, we had no idea what to do. As Texans, our first instinct was to find a closet or safe room, which, by the way, is only for tornadoes. For earthquakes, you get OUT of the building as quickly as possible. However, our instincts drove us to the kitchen to where the pantry was located. We were quickly stopped by the refrigerator that had managed to pull away from the wall and block the entry. We quickly moved the fridge, only to change our minds about the pantry when we discovered that all of our glass plates and cups had fallen out of the cupboards and were lying in shards all over the floor. I guess it was a good thing since this seemed to jolt us into realizing it would be best to get out of the apartment where it would likely be safer. We did make our way out to the parking lot and began making our quick phone calls to family back in Texas before they began to worry. It was only 5 or 6 in the morning back there, but we did let our parents know that we were okay. They had not heard about the earthquake yet, but thankfully we were able to get through. Only minutes later the phones lines were overloaded and no one could get a call in or out of LA, and all of the morning shows were showing early footage of the damage the quake had caused. We had no idea what was going on in LA since we had no access to a working TV, and smart phones were obviously not an option back then. We knew the quake had been large, but what little information we were able to get was from a battery-powered radio. However, even the radio stations seemed to be struggling to get information. From what I could tell last week, New Yorkers seemed to have a similar experience since even cell phone service was disrupted for many folks. It really is disorienting in this day and age when you have no connection to the "outside world". Needless to say, I am very thankful that I can keep tract of what is going on in the US from so far away.

Just before we left for our trip, I finished reading a book written by one of our older members at the Women's Club. A native Luxembourger, she was a young teenager when WWII disrupted her childhood. I met her last year when she came to one of our monthly meetings and mentioned that she had copies of her book with her if anyone was interested in purchasing one. They sold out before I had the chance to get one, but she did come to our first meeting this year. US Ambassador Mandell came to speak to our group and she had come to hear him speak. She happened to bring some of her books and I was quick to buy one this time. I easily read her book within a couple of days and was really touched by her story of living through the Nazi occupation in Luxembourg. The most moving part of her book was her recount of Liberation Day, when the American soldiers came marching into her small village near the Luxembourg-Germany border. Her stories of how excited the people of her little village were to see those tall, young soldiers chasing the Nazis across the border back into Germany gave me such a personal perspective of how Europeans and Luxembourgers from that generation viewed our country and our military.

You can travel to just about any small town in Luxembourg, France, or Belgium and it is not unusual to run across an tank or monument remembering and honoring the soldiers of the Allied Forces who risked their lives to save Europe from Hitler's army. They may have seen American soldiers as being loud and brash, but they also saw the loyalty and pride those men had in their country and their determination to fight for the right for freedom. I find it fascinating that Europeans in general are very interested in what happens in the US. I have been asked many times this week about the election - whether I planned to vote, what Americans were thinking about the candidates, and if local Americans planned to celebrate once the winner is announced. I actually found the last question quite funny since politics can easily divide many Americans. So, the thought of a "celebration" party here in Luxembourg would most definitely have to run along party lines. Whatever the outcome, I am thankful that even here in this teeny tiny country, far away from my Texan roots, I can exercise my right to vote and have my voice heard. Hopefully folks back home feel the same way today as they head out to the polls and struggle to stay patient in those long lines. My vote means that much more to me today after having learned yet one more perspective of  how hard our ancestors fought for that right, not only for Americans, but for many folks around the world. After all, we live in a global world now and our influence is often just a click away.

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