Sunday, July 6, 2008


I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my wife is not a native-born American. She was still steeped in much of what passes for American culture, is a huge basketball and baseball fan, for example. But occasionally something arises that I am at a loss to understand.

We were out bicycling last evening near dusk, and the winds were such that the adjoining town's festival was sending hot-air balloons our way. We saw a couple come in low over a nearby street, and I figured they were landing in a park about half a mile away. We cycled over and saw that, indeed, one had just landed and another had been down for a while.

Then a third came in low, barely over the treetops, and it looked as if it was coming down in the same park. Vagaries of wind being what they were, the balloon missed, and they cranked up the blower again to rise up, heading for who knows where. We followed for a while, but finally it rose up and over the forest preserve.

As we cycled back toward home, having picked our way through many vehicles and pedestrians, still seeing a lot of people out and about, my wife asked me if there were normally so many people out on a Saturday evening. I said, no, it was the excitement of the balloons passing overhead.

And she had no idea what I was talking about. It's a balloon, it goes up, it comes down, those watchers weren't riding in it, what's the big deal? And you know, I'm not sure myself. The balloon is big, quiet, surprisingly close to regular life, I can find those kinds of rationalizations. I can point out that people once went out to the airport to watch planes taking off and landing, though I don't think that's very common now.

But I find balloons fascinating, and people of all stripes apparently do as well, given the number of people out pointing skyward last evening. So my wife's indifference (not just indifference, but total incomprehension of others' interest) is strange to me, and I have to believe it's a cultural thing, a matter of national origin. So what things fascinate her people that would seem like nothing to Americans? I may have to explore that a little more.

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