Monday, September 14, 2009

He's baaaack... and happy

In my first day in the office after three weeks on the road (thanks to Eva for the mobile Internet access in the UK), I stumbled across the following in an article at the Boston Globe:

... when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

Yesterday, I took my usual jog along a nearby stream, around a pond, and out to the margins of the Rieselfeld neighborhood overlooking the wild natural edge of Freiburg, where development has been banned. As I followed the path through the rows of trees in the park, past the rabbits in the bushes, I could not help but think of the beauty of the English Gardens I saw on my three-week trip to England, especially Bowood and Stourhead. Though Freiburg's parks pale in comparison to these unique English gardens, somehow those English landscapes were so beautiful as to project themselves onto my mundane jogging route.

The model new housing development in Rieselfeld attracts urban planners from around the globe, and I often act as an interpreter on such visits. My colleague Stephen brought me to Prince Charles' development, called Poundbury, near Dorchester. Both developments are intended to be special in some way, and both have raised some eyebrows. But I jogged through Rieselfeld with different eyes yesterday.

In the wake of global economic turmoil, I stood in a banking high-rise in the middle of London's Canary Wharf and talked to my friend Andrew about his fears he had this year of losing his job, which he really likes. It was interesting for me to stand in one of the centers of the banking world that has caused so many people so much grief over the past year and see things through the eyes of a guy I met 10 years ago under much different conditions. The world he works in is an attractive one, indeed. Too bad it is run by people who no longer live in a society with the rest of us. But I could certainly see that world from his perspective, and it looked enviable.

I blew a lot of cash on this trip -- probably more than on any trip before, with the exception of my trip to New Orleans four months after Katrina, when the city only had 20 percent of its population and I left 20 dollar tips in an effort to pump some modest funding back into my hometown. So when I read that article at the Boston Globe, I realized that I had done the right thing spending so much money on spending time with other people in England. Aside from some T-shirts, I have little to show from my trip, but it somehow changed a part of me. Maybe it was all the smiles and common experiences along the way. And hey, even 1000 kilometers from home I still had six people singing happy birthday to me!

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