Friday, January 27, 2006

City Mouse, Country Mouse

Childhood books often provide striking analogies to real life. In this case, I'm feeling a schizophrenic congruence with the book "city mouse and country mouse," the tragic rather romeo-and-juliet- for-children tale of two mice friends who just can't seem to get past their anthropological differences. In my case, however, i'm half city and half country (A little bit country and a little bit rock and roll...?)
and instead of bringing fights and disagreements over cow milking and fast car driving, this odd duality brings me a butter-churn-full of

Munich is, like most European cities, bustlingly urban but also quaintly nostalgic. It has all the suited-cell-phoned-workers, late-night-discos, and ecclectic metropolitan flair you could want, complete with the occasional tragic infringement of the all so american-urban-accoutrements: mcdonalds, starbucks, and loud, bright colored advertising, written almost entirely in (if rather misused) english. But of course, there are also the narrow cobblestones roads and fading frescoed facades, the regal and intricate churches, patinaed fountains, commemorative statues, and bustling marketplaces that reminds us of Munich's humble pastoral beginnings as an outpost for monks. And there are huge swaths of green, rolling hilled parks with trickling rivers (even the occasional nude sunbather), tumbling waterfalls, daring surfers, natural and articifial lakes, the river Isar which meanders through the city like a sneaky but peaceful blue and green caterpillar.

Really, in Munich, I don't miss open spaces, because there seem to be plenty. It's no Chicago (or Pittsburgh, even), no skyscraper jungle where you only see the sky if you happen to stand in the middle of the road long enough without getting hit by a speeding car to look down the long line of buildings to a small and distant swatch of blue. It is, in fact, quite beautiful in Chicago to witness the genius of the directionally oriented city, when the sun as it sets aligns itself perfectly with the East-West streets and shines blindingly but beautifully directly down that clausterphobic alley of glass. But that is an exception, for in America, the city is usually suffocating. But here, I feel rather at peace with my surroundings, with the pleasant mix between old and new, busy and boring, shiny and crumbling. Which is why I am always so shocked when I step out the back door of my house in Feldafing.

Feldafing has a population of 4,000, but is essentially a suburb of Munich, although the word suburb lacks the necessary romance and brings to mind cul-de-sacs, SUVs and street names which have all decided disgustingly to have a theme, like "shooting star way," "neil armstrong alley" and "moon rock road." No, it's not like that, it's a beautiful little town on a spectacular lake with villas, winding roads, old churches, and a general cozy charm. And it's really in the country. I live on the "outskirts" which means about as far from the lake as you can get. It means that when I sit at the dining room table I'm looking at a giant field, a forest, and quite often a family of deer. When I walk into this (what is now a) vast whiteness with the family labrador retriever, I feel like I'm Peter in Ezra Jack Keat's "Snowy Day," like Polly and Digory stepping through the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's "Narnia", the little boy in the wordless "The Snowman" by Raymond Briggs". In other words, it's like a childhood fairytale.

Benni and I have taken many a long walk through magical forests, over white fields, and through frozen creek beds. We've tracked geese over hills, rabbits under fences, and deer across frozen ponds. I've been overwhelmed by the sensation of being surrounded by thousands of footprints in the snow, none of which belonged to a human being but my own, and totally awed by the breathtaking view of the alps silloutted by the setting sun. I fetch cheese, milk, and eggs from the neighboring farm, and watch neighbors transport themselves on horses, cross country skis and wooden tabbogans. I'm Davy Crockett! Tarzan's Jane! Aldo Leopold!

But wait. How can this be? I love the city, I love the rough edge, the action, dancing till 5am, watching my purse, riding the crowded subway, being a part of the throbbing mass of the working, the unemployed, the rich, the poor, the foreigners, the bavarians, the kind, the rude, the children, the grandparents, the whole messy soup of humanity. But I also love the peace of nature, the totally silent moments with just me, the dog, the geese and the trees (hey, they don't call me a treehugger for nothing).

Why did I bring this up, after all? In the last week I've been back and forth between "home" in Feldafing and "the city", Munich, and I've realized how much I love both worlds. It could just be my love for ambiguity and contrast (what hippie-liberal-eurofetishfull-treehugger loves the NFL and the Steelers with such fervor?) but I've come to the conclusion that I'm more than happy to house both city and country mouse in mousey-housey-harmony.

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