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"You're single? Come to Kilkenny"

A late night phone call in Nijmegen, The Netherlands

1 January 2005, Nijmegen The Netherlands —

Just ahead of the November 28 [2004] elections in Romania, I sent a text to G_, my friend in Kilkenny Ireland: "Good luck with your elections. I hope they go better than mine did."

The night before last, G_ called me in the middle of the night. He'd been out drinking, and he talked a lot, and laughed his maniacal laugh. But G_ is not a man to say something he doesn't mean, and when I told him about K_, he said "Steve. You're single? You should come to Kilkenny.*"

And I have to think about that. There's a gap between me and my Kilkenny friends that I let grow after I came back here in April.

So, that's one thing. Another is that this happens at a truly complex and interesting time. The evening before, I'd gone for a walk and asked myself the obvious question, "What the f*ck am I going to do?"

I'm not just single. I'm truly emancipated from K_. It sort of snapped in an instant. It wasn't fun. Feels better now, though.

But — still the question remains unapproached — what the f*ck am I going to do?

One thing is I'm not just here for K_. Another is that my relationship with K_ is not just about being together. And another — which is a really big recent development for me, and fresh off the press, is that I can speak Dutch now.

I've crammed a lot of Dutch into my head lately, and over the last few weeks I've convinced people that I'm not going to speak English with them. Everybody but K_. She's next, whenever we see each other again.

A couple of women here in the building were putting together a dinner party, and it didn't seem it would work. Too many people out of town. Then it did work, and it turned out to include some of the coolest people I've seen around here. Seen, but never talked to.

It was great. It was in the form of a "progressive dinner," with soup and bread in one room, main course in the common room of another section, and dessert in another room. We all made three of one thing, and brought it together, and it came off nicely. Everybody was happy with it. A couple of the guys like a little smoke, so we rolled some joints and it was all very cozy.

Later, some of us — including all of the people that I liked — went to a party just a short walk from here. Top floor of "Biotex," an old soap-factory building. Nice view of the city. It was a good mellow party, and I forced myself to be comfortable. Well, not really. What I did do is occasionally repeat a sort of mantra: "just wait." In other words, don't be nervous about just sitting there. It served me well, and I came out feeling like I'd had a social occasion and not an isolating one in a social setting.

The fireworks were outstanding. Now, normally you'd think of an occasion where you'd have a fireworks "show," right? It's organized, and centralized. This was a whole different thing.

We went to the roof just before midnight. At midnight there started some nice-looking fireworks, all about the city. These looked fairly domestic. But it sort of escalated, over the next five minutes. Then, it was like a professional fireworks show, all about the city — probably five or six times the amount of displays within a given time-frame that you'd see in a normal big-city municipal program.

At one point, a couple of fireballs passed a little close overhead, and everybody kind of watched out to see where they'd land.

There was also a big fire on the sidewalk below. "Het is gewoon een vredesvuur," one girl decided. It was only a bonfire.

I don't know how long the fireworks sustained a high density of action, but it was at least a half-hour, maybe more like 40 minutes. After that time, it slowed down.

It was nice. And, well, more to the point — I feel like I've met friends. I've met people who interest me, and who make me feel good. I haven't had that, in Nijmegen, all this time. And, I'm speaking Dutch. This is critical for me. Though most people make a "de facto" decision that their English is good enough for them in Holland, the truth is you can't get involved if you can't interact spontaneously to what people say. I've made a strong commitment to speak the language, and the commitment is serving me well.

So. I'm not going to make any big decisions right now. That makes sense, doesn't it? It sure is funny in a way, how I went from walking the streets in full doubt because I didn't have any good options — to being conflicted with competing options of high quality.

I'll let you know more, though like I say, I'm not going to make any quick decisions.

  — From an email, sent 1 January 2005

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* I returned to Kilkenny on the 17th of January.

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