And Now, Back to Our Program
I just got back from a three week trip to Europe. Or at least I think I did.
In the film Total Recall, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, Arnold Schwarzenegger experiences a virtual vacation with picture-perfect Alpine slopes, romance and azure skies, which feels wonderful—till he discovers the chip in his head.
As my train clacked through the Swiss countryside, blonde cows wearing photogenic bells munched contentedly on the manicured, emerald slopes. Cottages straight out of a Ricola ad dotted the neat squares of farm and pasture. Picturesque villages with smiling, rosy-cheeked bicyclists whizzed past. Jet-lagged and disoriented, I murmured, “It looks just like Switzerland.” As I disembarked from the train, the unmistakable scent of cow manure dispelled my fear that I might be dreaming.
Then I went to Prague. Like a Disney version of a Kafka novel, the streets of Old Town were a relentlessly cheerful labyrinth of passageways that always led us back to the square with the famous astronomical clock which always seemed to have just finished ringing. Baffled, I’d stand with the hundreds of tourists staring upward at the clock, waiting for something more to happen than the fifteen second appearance of some statues of saints peeking through a door. Many still had cameras raised in anticipation of some grand epiphany; perhaps a precession of the equinoxes or some herald of astronomical wonder to reward their sweaty vigil. I’d leave them standing and resume my Sisyphus-like prowl, searching for a bridge to the other side of the river.
Every street held a tribute to Kafka: a Kafka tour, Kafka posters, portraits, T-shirts and mugs. If Prague Castle was the model for Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Kafka had become its ironic Mickey Mouse.
After about the fourth time of finding myself in the square, I became suspicious. Was I trapped in some sort of Sartre play, doomed to eternity with no exit? I stared at my sister, wondering if perhaps she had been replaced by a virtual model. And then, there it was, The Charles Bridge. Reality snapped back into focus. I wasn’t in a Kafka novel after all.
I was so relieved that I didn’t see the stair I tripped over, falling flat on my face at the foot of the bridge. A concerned crowd gathered as I stood up. I touched my nose. Intact. Looked at my hands, not a scratch. My pants weren’t even torn. It was as if it hadn’t happened. My sister stared. I shrugged. “A glitch in the Matrix,” I quipped.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, The Matrix proposes that all of us are actually living a virtual reality, dreaming a life no more real than the Holodeck on Star Trek. You can manipulate this virtual world once you recognize which program is running. Clearly injury was not part of my vacation program. Still….
I’ve always suspected that life is really a movie where each of us is the writer, director, and star. As I walked through the streets of Cieszyn, Poland, where my father grew up, scenes from my previous visits played out on the transformed yet so familiar movie set of past adventures.
My favorite café had become a Citibank. In fact, it seemed that much of Poland was owned by Citibank, with billboards, buildings, and even the airport shouting its logo. Had I entered a dimension where Poland had changed its name? For a tense moment, I rationalized. After all, in our capitalist country we have places like Toyota Center Stadium, US Cellular Field, PNC Bank Art Center. Why not a country? But surely a country named Citibank would never speak Polish.
Speaking of which, no one was more surprised than I to discover that after not speaking Polish for thirty years, I suddenly knew the language as well or better than I had before. After a dozen people remarked on my fluency, I began to feel for the chip in my head.
When we arrived at our hotel in Budapest, we were greeted by a huge poster announcing that all the art in the hotel was painted by someone named Donald Sultan. The first sentence on his bio read, “Donald Sultan was born in Asheville, NC.” Really, out of all the cities in the world, I picked the hotel in Hungary that references Asheville. A New York friend I haven’t seen since he moved to Hungary fifteen years ago, showed up carrying an Asheville Art Museum tote, with no memory of how he had acquired it. In the movie Dark City, where citizens are re-programmed with different memories every night by evil aliens, William Hurt carries around an accordion that he says his mother gave him. Thing is, he can’t remember his mother’s name.
My sister and I joked about all the coincidences. Being from LA, she couldn’t imagine why Asheville would be so prominent in a city so far away. I tried to convince her that Asheville is famous. “Why even Obama came here,” I said. “He had lunch at 12 Bones!”
I flew home the next day, my sister stayed on. At Atlanta airport I got a text from her. “I just walked across the Danube and passed a guy wearing a 12 Bones T Shirt.” Perhaps, As Marc Talbot proposed in his book, The Holographic Universe, we really are creating reality every second.
The first morning I awoke at home, I opened my eyes. My room was vast, with fresco paintings on the wall, a chandelier, and a castle view outside my window. “Where am I, where am I?” I muttered. I closed my eyes and opened them again to my nightstand, my softly snoring husband, the half open closet door, the comforting sound of towhees in the yard. Finally, I had created home.
When not vagabonding through time and space, Lavinia works in the here and now, teaching the Feldenkrais Method and The Creative Body at Asheville Movement Center.
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