I’m writing to you from the Café Sperl, a very old coffee house in Vienna, Austria directly across the street from our top floor flat with windows only to the clouds. I will be here 7 weeks. Today it is raining and grey. From my window seat, the mahogany paneling and Victorian upholstery evoke a different time and place, centuries away from California, 21st century. Smoke lingers in the air thick and heavy, actually having that strange Hollywood effect of enhancing the atmosphere in the same way a cigarette, dangling from James Dean’s mouth completed the look. Yes, I am trading my smoke free world (you know you’ve been in California too long when you can feel the secondhand smoke slowly shortening your life) for the atmospheric experience…of experience.

I’m no stranger to culture shock, yet I’m shocked! With my 9th house Sun in Cancer, I carry my home on my back, but for 7 weeks? Can you say peeling back the shell? I’ve longed for distant faraway lands, journeys into the unknown, the experience of being plopped down in the middle of nowhere to find myself. Yet as a Cancer Sun, it’s also mildly traumatic. I realize I have one of two choices: to fully inject my presence into the new, foreign world…or retreat into my shell.

I’ve done both. The isolation of the latter is intolerable. I learned this when I first attended University (also a growth oriented 9th house experience) and stumbled. With no benchmark for this strange experience, the perplexing world of sororities and fraternities and dorm life was shell-shocking. I remember attending class and returning alone day after day, without having ever spoken to anyone. I loved learning with a passion, yet I never figured out what to do with the feeling, I am stranger.

Live and learn. Today is a new day. Today I am fortified with resolve: to either meet one new person, find one new place or have one new experience every single day. Despite the hermit Crab’s insistence, my Aries Moon always makes the final call. She needs challenge, to thrive on a baseline of excitement and/or stress, preferably both.

Sometimes when I think of my 9th house Sun, I think of the Dalai Lama (also a Cancer), forced from his homeland and his very semblance of self. It’s shocking how much identity is bound up in culture and family. Being displaced from the insular spiritual island that is Tibet is probably one of the more painful 9th house experiences. While some are forced from their homeland, others willingly step away. It’s a lot like being an alien – the funny green kind. The Dalai Lama has that just-landed look (in a spiritual way, of course).

Disorientation: hmmm, that clever ruse for the promise of self-expansion, personal growth, evolutionary leaps in consciousness. Or jumping into the deep end? On our way to the airport, our cab driver reflected on his world journey, commenting, “Travel is good. It opens your eyes.” I wonder, how many explorers never came home from their journey, or came home utterly changed? It’s not all that unpleasant (unless you’re Tom Hanks in Cast Away ). You’re simply going to have to crack a few coconuts to get the net effect of learning. You lose yourself to find yourself. Once you get the hang of jumping in, it’s one of the more pleasant forms of growth.

I also have Saturn in Gemini in the 9th. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer: my inability to read neither book nor newspaper scrambles my sense of self. In the states, we’re bombarded with such excessive communication I resort to suffocating my phone underneath pillows. Do I exist if I’m unable to communicate? Here, I know no German. I have no cell phone. We’ve yet to figure out how to get internet access from our apartment.

The neighborhood drama: behind several locked networks lurks one mysterious networker named “Superman” whom we’re heaven bent on finding. We placed a tasteful sign on the doorway of the apartment building “will pay to share your internet” to no avail. Maybe it’s an uncouth offer, hard to know (if we’d posted that same sign at our natural vienna veggiesfood store in hippy town Fairfax, we’d been flooded). As it stands, the sign was removed. So we’ve posted a new one: “Superman, where are you?” Maybe it’s time to get my Lois Lane on, to play the damsel in distress card.

I am however blessed with a gut sense of direction. My gut is my honing device, which I consistently ask for the skinny. When it doesn’t reply “hungry”, as it often does, I hear a running commentary (no pun intended). Yesterday it said, “I feel like I’m Moon walking, not Michael Jackson, but Neal Armstrong. I have no center of gravity. I’m just floating in space.”

Well, I’ve only just landed. I may not know how to read a map, but my gut knows how to get me to what I’m convinced is the best market in the world…and back again. I can feel my way there. International delicacies, baba ganoush and thai curry, weinersnitzel and blocks of fresh tofu, baklava, deep rich espresso and organic teas of every variety. With all the foodie treats in the world at my doorstep, I couldn’t want for more.

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