The Twelve Days of Wonderland

7 Sep

I had my first successful return to “my” culture when I went back to the US in May. It was my first real visit since moving down here, because I don’t think four and 1/2 months working/living/visiting in the US counts exactly as a “visit”- it’s some other kind of gray, vague unnamed thing. So this time, for the first time ever, I knew that I couldn’t waste time in the world of culture shock, feeling bizarre and out of place and slightly appalled. It was only a 12 day visit, so I steeled myself to enjoy it all.

Lucia looking out the airplane window. She is ever ready for an adventure.

Lucia looking out the airplane window. She is ever ready for an adventure.

True, I didn’t quite succeed at enjoying the chilly weather when we first arrived (what do you guys not understand about my unfulfilled destiny to be born and raised on a tropical island?!), but I salvaged my goal of not being grumpy by enjoying the wearing of pants, by basking in Lucia’s joy at getting to wear her long-sleeved “hola” pajamas-aka Dora the Explorer- (her PJs here usually consist of a diaper- sometimes with a t-shirt). I thoroughly appreciated that Lucia didn’t wake up at 3 in the morning, sweating and asking for water.


Lucia in a hoody! Enjoying her own private slide in Paw-Paw and Gamma's yard.

Lucia in a hoody! Enjoying her own private slide in Paw-Paw and Gamma’s yard.

This time around, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed and slightly disgusted at the absurd amount of food and choices in the supermarket, I pointed and clapped my hands at the foods I wanted to eat that we don’t get down here. “Look, Lucia, butternut squash! Oooh oooh let’s get kale!” I might have even jumped up and down, excited about each selection. “Oh my goodness, please can we get organic grapes?” Lucia didn’t even know what half of those foods were, but I got her and my mom excited with my contagious giddiness. Lucia and I also invented the “happy asparagus” song and dance, which we still dance when we manage to find and afford asparagus down here.

I was pleased with organic labeling in the supermarket, too. While I’ve never been able to buy everything organic or local, I used to diligently follow the rules on buying organic for the “dirty dozen” at least- the most contaminated non-organic produce. Here, though, I don’t have that option. I can either eat spinach or not each spinach. There’s no option to buy organic or even know where it comes from, most of the time. There are foods that are organic, despite the lack of labeling. Typically if you’re buying from some señora selling on the street, it’s probably local and organic. Native foods and wild foods (which they eat way more of here than there- cool kinds of mushrooms and seeds and other “bizarre” foods, plus Mexican staples like nopales- cactus- and chepiles) you can usually count on to be chemical-free. But I don’t want to limit my vegetable intake to those. So we buy what’s available and hope it doesn’t do us too much harm (especially to my ever-growing-and-developing Lucia).

Brussel sprouts to my heart's content!

Brussel sprouts to my heart’s content!


Giant ice creams with flavors like hazelnut and pistachio also help create an enjoyable experience!

Giant ice creams with flavors like hazelnut and pistachio also help create an enjoyable experience!


So our journey of seemingly limitless options continued with choice after choice of beer and bourbon! Yes, since bourbon is made in my old Kentucky home it wasn’t exactly a surprise to find a plethora of good and affordable choices everywhere I turned, but it didn’t minimize the pleasure of it. But the beer options are pretty amazing, too! There are local microbrews, microbrews from all over the country, tons and tons of imported and national beers of all kinds- stouts and pale ales and wheat beers and oh so much more. Coming from a town where often the only choice is Corona or Victoria- two lagers that taste nearly identical, it was close to miraculous. I didn’t even drink very much in my twelve days there, but just seeing all the options and savoring a couple different kinds was its own special treat.

Lots of magical stuff happens in the U.S., too. I must’ve spent five minutes looking all over my dad’s kitchen for the matches to light the stove, before I realized you just turn the knob to the “light” part and it lights itself! Just like magic. There were microwaves and dishwashers and washers and dryers, a whole other brand of convenient magic! And coffee makers! Plus staying at my mom’s house is instant morning magic, since she gets up at the crack of dawn and thus coffee is always already-made. While we waited in the airport, Lucia and I played on the “magic stairs” (escalators) and the “magic sidewalk” (the moving sidewalk). Granted, some of these things (like microwaves and coffee makers) exist here, but not in my world, and they are certainly not the everybody-has-them items that they are in the U.S. So we accepted the magic  as such instead of fretting over our carbon footprint and the sheer triviality of it all, and a good and convenient time was had by all.

I drove a car all over town, wherever and whenever I wanted ( my almost-two-year-old allowing). When I had access to a car on my four-month living-visit, I felt stifled and stuck because there’s was nowhere to walk to and I couldn’t bike with Lucia. I had to drive everywhere, and it made me crazy. But this twelve day car adventure was fun and liberating, thanks to the novelty not wearing off. Especially since there are only paved roads, almost no giant potholes, and insanely rapid travel on these things called highways. (We do have “highways” in my neck of the woods down here, but the fastest one is a two lane affair- one lane each direction- where you might go like 40 mph.)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I appreciate the water situation there, too. Both the consumption of and subsequent relinquishing of water in the body is such a sweet set up! First of all, Louisville, Kentucky has some delicious, very safe and clean water, straight out of the tap, practically free. There’s even FREE water, if you order that to drink in a restaurant, or if you swing by one of those magical machines called water fountains. Here, the water from the tap is drinkable if you boil it (we use it for cooking and the coffee or tea we boil on the stove). Treated drinking water is bought in 8 gallon plastic jugs (approx 8 gallons). The jugs are in various states of decomposition because they are reused, left out in the sun so the passing truck will stop and sell you a new one. When you’re in a restaurant or out on the street, you’re only real option for drinking water, if you haven’t brought enough from home, is to buy plastic bottles. I despise all this plastic use, and it angers me to have to pay for water that is not even proven to be safe (who certifies the water? the company that treats it!), which probably also has nasty chemicals leaking into it thanks to all this plastic. So I was grateful as always about the water situation in Louisville. The only almost-damper on my enjoyment of it was seeing an excessive amount of people with their plastic water bottles. Why, people, why??? It’s so easy to have safe, free drinking water all the time if you just carry a reusable bottle. Okay, tirade over.

On the other side of the water situation is the free public restroom situation. If there’s anything wonderful about the USA that doesn’t really exist anywhere else on the planet, it’s the amount of and access to clean restrooms at no cost, no matter where you are. Sure, there’s no paid maternity leave. Yes, there is rampant and systemic racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination. But you can use the potty any damn where the mood takes you! Especially for folks like myself, after drinking lots of free, clean water, this is a truly fabulous situation.  

In the spaces between all these miracles and magic, there are also lots of aspects that are neither here nor there, a mix of good and bad. I ate shrimp with no heads, already peeled and everything (peeled, but worlds away from fresh). We ate square fish, totally unrecognizable as fish (but delicious on rye bread). We walked in grass. Lucia and I discussed all the different kinds of machines and trucks and big equipment that’s everywhere. We saw multiple airplanes every day. Lucia got to swing in baby swings all by herself, instead of sitting on the swing with a parent (although now she’s finally old enough to start holding on by herself on the big kid swings). It was fascinating and pleasant, and I’m so glad we went.

Lucia's big enough to hold on to the swings now; good because that's the only option here!

Lucia’s big enough to hold on to the swings now; good, because that’s the only option here!

spinach pizza! good for every day of the week? no. good for today? yes!

spinach pizza! good for every day of the week? no. good for today? yes!


This was by far the best and easiest transition between cultures I’ve ever had. Perhaps because it was so short, forcing me to go with the flow. Perhaps because I’m learning from Lucia, who switches back and forth from culture to culture, from Spanish to English, from tortillas to pasta, like nobody’s business. Perhaps because I’ve finally learned that there is no good or bad, just a series of trade-offs and advantages and disadvantages, and it’s all so temporary, so fleeting, like our lives. Perhaps I’m finally really internalizing my belief that each of us gets to decide how we react to our circumstances, every single moment. So I’m trying to keep this visit in mind. I want the next visit to be like this/ with me this open to everything, able to focus on the bright side of all of it. But more than everything, I want my everyday life to be like this. I want to believe in magic everywhere, and appreciate it all.

One Response to “The Twelve Days of Wonderland”

  1. fml221 September 8, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    Yep, you’ve put your finger on it – believing in magic and appreciating it everywhere sure makes the world a more pleasant place, and life a lot more fun. Glad you’re figuring it out! And super glad you enjoyed your visit.

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