Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thoughts on Europe

Travelling to Europe always has a profound impact on me, and my visit to England, Slovakia and Austria earlier this month was no exception. As a lover of Art, History and Culture, it is a pure luxury to have the opportunity to submerse oneself in the European milieu. It is such a sharp contrast to the new neon and utilitarian scapes of North America, particularly here in the Canadian West. I saw an episode of the Pilot Guides TV programme not so long ago about Western Canada. It spent 10 minutes in Edmonton, showcasing West Edmonton Mall, 30 minutes in Calgary focusing on the Stampede and then a brief glimpse of Jasper and a couple other Rocky Mountain towns. Pretty sad really. The show did not do our area justice on the one hand as we do have some amazing landscapes ranging from the Badlands to the Rocky Mountains to the Prairies here in Alberta. Edmonton is also a pretty good city to live in with a multitude of Festivals, hundreds of kilometres of bike paths and a gorgeous river valley. But something is definitely missing.

I think, on a social level, Europeans live much differently than we do. In my region of Canada, people are work alcoholics in a 24/7 society. I was amazed in Vienna, for example, that shops still close for two hours over lunch and then for good at 6 p.m. each day. Alberta is the pinnacle of fast food culture, while everything in Europe tends to be at a much more amicable pace. For example, in Slovakia, every meal began with soup, followed by a main course and then cakes and coffee. It's just a much more carefree pace, and people seem more concerned with enjoying themselves and having pleasurable times in Europe, compared to our super sized fast food culture of North America.

I was surprised at how many people still smoke in Europe. Vienna in particular, it seemed almost obligatory that one smokes. Also, the Viennese sustain themselves on schnitzel, sausages and potatoes, yet the people appeared healthy and there were few obese people that I saw. Beer, wine and espresso flows freely. That, again, causes me to ponder the North American lifestyle where smokers are like leapers and 2/3 of our population is hanging well over their belt buckles. I'd be willing to wager that rates of cancer and heart disease are much higher in North America, despite the clearer air, less dense population and social sanitation policies.

Europe has of course the benefit of thousands of years of civilisation to justify how they eclipse our Art and architecture here in North America. The details in the building designs truly tell of a culture who are establishing their places as a home as opposed to the typical strip mall and modular home styles that dominate the North American landscape. Beauty aside, the sheer history of the places are spectacular. For example, in my wife's home town in England, the main church (still holding services) was built in 1234. I stopped at a pub built in the 12th Century that bore a plaque stating that the Knights Templar and Hospitallers had stayed there at one point. Amazing stuff, and all of this before you even set foot into one of the thousands of incredible Art Galleries or Museums!

In the end, I know that I am an idealist and that there are benefits of both Europe and North America. I've lived extended periods in England, Ireland and Slovakia, as well as a multitude of Canadian cities. When away, I miss the familiarity of home, the conveniences and of course, the space that we have in abundance. Home is where the heart is I suppose, but sometimes, we may not be entirely certain as to what our hearts are telling us. On the one hand, I enjoy my career and life in Edmonton. On the other, I think of the Viennese cafes, the galleries, the Soccer and the other trappings of European culture and ask myself whether I'd be happier elsewhere. Perhaps in time I will venture east once again to see – life is long and a beautiful journey. I'm simply glad to have had the opportunities that I have had.


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