Daniel Brooks

Europe, astonishingly, is off of the list of places that US citizens are allowed to visit. Russians are not allowed to go to the European Union as well, putting both nationalities in the same boat. Russians and Americans can fly to the UK but would have to quarantine for two weeks, which is a bit much. I don’t care. Who needs Europe when you can spend time enjoying life in the suburbs of Moscow? 

On vacation in Europe, the thing to do is get a feel for the lay of the land, become accustomed to the local currency, find a great place to eat and release the females into a picturesque part of town to shop while drinking espresso in the central square. Read books. Take a swim in the ocean and lay on a beach. That evening, the agenda involves looking out over a European vista with either olive trees, the Mediterranean or the Alps. Talk about how wonderful the country is. Drink the local wine, eat the food and take photos. Leave your troubles behind. After coming back to Moscow, we would look back on the memories of travel by blanking out the difficult bits and remembering the rest fondly. Then, we would meet friends over a big meal and tell them all about it. They would do the same. We’d all eat our hearts out. 

Little did I know that I have less need for Europe than I thought. So much can be done in my own neighbourhood. The Istra river is 10 minutes away. It’s six feet deep at the deepest and there is always room on the shore for a lawn chair. The river is a bit murky but who needs to swim underwater? We have an outdoor café in a new discount shopping mall nearby that offers double espressos and sufficiently reasonable pizza. Everyone in the neighbourhood shows up, dressed in their finest duds. Many bring their young daughters, dressed in pink. We gaze out over the parking lot. Afterwards, we buy brand name t-shirts, baseball hats and electronics at half price. Afterwards, a visit to the local, outdoor hardware market can take place. I recently acquired some black stuff in a tube, needed to plug a leak in a gutter on my garage. Having gotten something done, I got a hold of a big juicy watermelon from Astrakhan and ate it on our deck, watching the wind blow through our own trees, birch, pine, oak. Olive trees don’t come close. 

While on the road, I was constantly taking inventory as I would go from one place to the next in search of my reading glasses, sunglasses, phone, wallet, passport, earphones, chargers, laptop, kindle, baseball hat. Each item is essential. A normal life without reading glasses is impossible. At some harrowing moment I would have to double back and find something irreplaceable. Especially elusive are sunglasses who manage to escape at the first opportunity, like a cat. Passports find their way into a hidden pocket when checking into a flight or crossing a border. The loss of a phone is tantamount to sacrificing a limb. Often on vacation I would wear baggy pants with several big pockets, filled with supplies. They would sag down lower and lower, kept aloft tenuously with a belt at the reduced circumference of my hips below the inexorably increasing waistline above it. These days everything is safely situated on my desk in my home office. The pressure is off.

In Europe, we’d get up bright and early to find something historical to visit. Getting there involved whipping out the smartphone and following google maps in the rental car. Parking is always in short supply. In the ancient cathedral or fortress, hordes of travellers converge. It was once Catholic, now it is Protestant, or perhaps it never changed religions at all. It was invaded at several points in its bloody history, that much is certain. Nowadays, ancient history has been changed by recent events in my own life, displayed at home. In our household, something put in a certain place stays there, like a museum. Our greenhouse grows no vegetables or plants. It houses a collection of unused plastic gnomes in one corner. Another part of the greenhouse features several birdhouses, dating back to our birdhouse phase. Several broken, Grecian nymphs lie on a shelf, waiting to be glued back together. Instead of the history of Croatia, I’m focused on the history of the Brooks family, equally lost in the fog of time. 

I’ve put travel into a burlap bag in my mind, tied it up and buried it. Inside the bag, thoughts about hanging out in Earls Court in London sometimes enter into a conflict with memories of a trip I took last year to Poland where, with the Poles, we drank vodka, ate pelmeni and made toasts. It was just like getting hammered on vodka in Russia albeit with bigger pelmeni and better kolbasa. I understood every 10th Polish word and as the evening progressed, every 5th one. Earls Court has a pub that sells big hunks of juicy, tender lamb with gravy and various kinds of draft beer, enough food for an army. Several old timers sit in it in the afternoon, eyeing the world sceptically. The pub is named something like the King’s Ransom and is several years centuries older than the United States. Recently, memories of Poland and Earls Court raised hell in the burlap bag and suddenly, they got out. I put them back inside by thinking about how I no longer have any need to book flights online or ponder whether the flat I’m reserving on booking.com in Amsterdam is the size of a sardine can. In my life today, there is no such thing as an aisle seat. Nor do I give a single thought to the guy sitting next to me on a flight to Minsk, jabbing his elbows into my ribs. There is no need to wait in line at the car rental office, wondering if I will end up with a jalopy. I’m happily touring about the Moscow suburbs in my own 2011 Nissan sedan, now officially a throwback. It, like me, is taking a break from following the herd to Europe. 

Fine with me. 

Copyright Daniel Brooks, 10 August 2020

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