Sunday, September 12, 2010

Home sweet temporary home

It's hard to believe I've only been in Bonn for one week. It feels like I've been here for a year. I guess that's what happens when you step off the plane and into a whirling vortex of activity.

I arrived Thursday night and started working at the UN the next morning. The day after that, I looked for a place to live, found a place to live, and went to a dinner party. On Monday, I moved out of the hotel and into an apartment. Along the way, I got yelled at (in German) by a bus driver after attempting to put coins in the fare slot instead of placing them on the little tray (how was I supposed to know?). I guess I jammed up the machine pretty badly because the driver kept swearing and pounding on it with his fist every time someone needed change. He also made a point of turning around and throwing a few hostile stares in my direction during these frequent temper tantrums. I haven't taken the bus since.

On Tuesday, I got lost on my way to my landlady's art opening, missed the show, and discovered that my bankcard wasn't working. On Wednesday, the bank unblocked my card and I finally topped up my dwindling supply of cash. On Thursday, I went to my landlady's apartment to pay the rent and ended up staying for dinner.

I feel like I won the apartment lottery. I'm living in the basement of a beautiful old house built in 1886. The apartment is fully furnished and has free internet and its own private garden (all for 505 Euro a month, including heat, hot water, and electricity). It's quiet, clean, and cozy. The two other tenants -- a young Italian woman and an older Spanish man -- also work at the UN. The location is about as good as it gets. It's a 10-minute walk to the centre of town, a two-minute walk to the Rhine River, and a five-minute walk to pretty much everything else.

But what makes me happiest about the apartment is the people who rented it to me. I was just one person in a long line of people who were viewing the apartment on the weekend. But I had one advantage -- my Canadian passport. It turns out that Christine, the owner of the house, is also Canadian. Originally from Switzerland, she moved to Montreal at the age of 20 and loved it so much she stuck around for 10 years and became a citizen. She instantly warmed to me and I instantly warmed to her. She later confessed that my being Canadian was what made her decide to rent the apartment to me.

She and her German husband Eduard live in an airy, rambling apartment two floors above mine. Christine is an artist and Eduard is a music producer. They are fun and friendly and love cats just as much as I do. I went to their apartment to pay the rent on Thursday night and Christine invited me in and we ended up talking in her kitchen the whole night. Christine and Eduard insisted I stay for dinner and we feasted on tomatoes, bread, cheese, salad and red wine by candlelight. The three of us talked about everything -- music, marriage, cats, children, grandchildren, Eduard's adventures in Los Angeles, and Christine's adventures in Canada's wild spaces and beautiful places.

It has been no different at work. I have been warmly welcomed and made to feel like a part of the team. The work is challenging, interesting, and meaningful. The cafeteria food is delicious. I am exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do. Sometimes I just want to pinch myself. How did I get so lucky?

I don't think I will ever tire of walking around Bonn. I love the way the rows of old houses are seamlessly stitched together and stand right up against the sidewalk. I love their richly decorated facades, arched windows, heavy doors, and high ceilings. The houses remind me of towering wedding cakes -- all sugary swirls, etched edges, and gilded pillars. To me, these elaborate flourishes epitomize the romantic, idealized image of Europe -- a place with magnificent architecture and cobblestone streets.

It's strange, this adjusting to life in a new city. I thought I would feel lost or disoriented. But I don't. I haven't experienced any culture shock, other than getting yelled at by the bus driver and being blown away by the size of the cheese section at the grocery store.

Sharing a train with hundreds of drunken, rowdy football fans was also pretty shocking (and by "football" I really mean "soccer"). They were yelling, drinking, and smoking. Most of them were so muscular their necks were non-existent. Some of them were missing teeth. All of them seemed to be a hair-trigger away from throwing punches at each other, which probably explains why there were an equal number of police officers riding the train.

It's hard to believe I've only been in Bonn for one week.

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