Saturday, February 7, 2009
The Contemplative Turtle
Although I'm still not talking about my age again (ever!), my birthday continues to be celebrated. My friends surprised me with a birthday party on the 23rd, and gave me the most marvelous gifts for body, mind, and soul. Yesterday, I received two more gifts: my very own Eisstock (a game in which I still continue to amaze my colleagues and friends with my prowess):
...and The Original Recipes of Bushnell's Turtle. Bushnell's Turtle, what's that? Glad you asked!
The *original* Bushnell's Turtle was a submarine used in the Revolutionary War. A couple in Iowa City called their restaurant Bushnell's Turtle - Home of the Original Submarine (as in sandwich). Although this eatery closed in 1994, it has achieved cult status, chiefly due to the cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. When he left Iowa City in 1985, Mr. Breathed drew an editorial cartoon featuring Bloom County characters Opus and Binkley sitting on the downtown fountain (not the new one, the one that looked like three ladies peeing on the ped mall... do a google picture search for Iowa City Fountain and it will be the first result). In the cartoon Opus the Penguin was waxing philosophic about leaving Iowa City, with a soliloquy that went something like this: "Iowa City... How will I miss thee? Let me count the ways... I will miss the swellest public library west of the Mississippi, the wild women of Barbara's Bakeshop, the obscenely yummy hot turkey sandwiches at Bushnell's Turtle, and the criminally obnoxious name 'Things Things Things. Yes! Yes! I will miss everything about Iowa City!" To which Binkley responds "Except the water... the water tastes like Spic'N'Span." (The original cartoon hangs today in the Iowa City Public Library, natch).
Sadly, none of the businesses that Mr. Breathed and Opus raved about on the front page of the Press-Citizen are still operating.
These two gifts (the Eisstock and the cookbook) represent the two places which have had such a profound influence on my life. Iowa City has always been the center of my universe, where family and familiar converge. But Austria is still where I feel most at home.
Last year, as I was about to leave Austria for a summer in Iowa City, I had a dream. As with all my dreams, it was taken directly from life. I had just attended a graduation ceremony where the students gave their form teacher the class turtle named Einstein. In my dream, I was carrying the terrarium and it tipped over. Einstein was ripped in half, and I kept trying to put him back together, with no success. Dream interpretation, anyone?
Turtle has been my nickname since I was about 13. I was sitting on the front porch in a beanbag chair waiting for my best friend to arrive. I threw the beanbag over my shoulder to carry it inside and Robin (who not-so-coincidentally gave me the Bushnell's Turtle cookbook) said I looked like a turtle. In what ways have I embraced this totem? Well, turtles carry their homes on their backs, and I've proved that I can live with very few possessions. Like a turtle, I am slow and deliberate, almost to a fault. And turtles protect themselves by pulling their head and legs into their shell and waiting until the threat has passed.
Like Einstein the turtle, I guess that I am feeling torn between my two worlds. When threatened with making a potentially rash decision, I would rather pull in my head and close myself off than actually face the many uncertainties that lie ahead. Uncertainties like whether I'll still have a job in the fall, will I make it as a writer, should I apply for Austrian residency on the off chance I could get a job here? But decisions need to be made soon, and the only way to make them is to meet them head on.
In memoriam, Kent W. Parks, January 10, 1964 - February 7, 1993.