I’m not a sociologist, so I don’t really know when I technically “grew up.” Since I went from age 6 to 16 in the 1980s, a case could be made that I grew up in that decade. Still, I feel like it was during my time aged 16 to 26 that I actually became who I am today (which, for you mathematically challenged, spanned from 1990 – 1999). Most of my memories of the ’80s were of childhood and young adolescence, while my memories of the ’90s were of my teens and young adulthood. So for the purpose of this post, I consider myself a product of the 1990s more than anything else.
Like anyone, I consider my experience of the ’90s to have been unique, especially because I spent the better part of the decade living abroad, mainly in Europe (in fact, the only full-calendar years during that decade that I spent exclusively in the U.S. were 1990 and 1993). This fact has hugely shaped who I am (if for no other reason than that I have huge gaps in my ’90s American pop-culture knowledge. For example, I can name from memory the casts of Who’s the Boss, Silver Spoons, Alias, and Lost, but with a few exceptions my memory of ’90s-era TV shows is pretty limited and full of holes).
It’s even more pronounced when it comes to music. I swear if you promised me a million dollars if I could name ten songs by any combination of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins, I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I don’t like those bands, it’s just that they weren’t a part of the collective cultural air that I was breathing back then (which consisted more of Daft Punk, Radiohead, U2, The Prodigy, The Verve, Stone Roses, and Oasis). In a word, way more techno and electronica, way less grunge. Indeed, it wasn’t until I moved back to California in 2000 that I found out what a so-called “failure” U2′s 1997 album Pop, and its supporting Popmart tour, supposedly were (I had seen the tour in Vienna and Sarajevo, and apparently Europeans never got the memo about how out of touch the band had become).
All this to say, the 1990s will always be associated with Europe for me, and this cannot but fill me with fond memories of that decade. It was that time, and that place, that have contributed to how I think today about everything from politics to leisure, economics to architecture, and transportation to smoking.
And when it comes to religion, well, I will admit that as much as I hated the Catholic Church back then — especially post-’96 when I accepted John Calvin into my heart — I was always drawn to the old cathedrals of Europe (beginning with St. Michael’s in Brussels where, on an all-day layover en route to Uganda, I had the surreal experience of watching a classical orchestra rehearsing up front while I and a handful of other tourists took in the church’s sights, icons, and “idols”). While I never actually attended any non-Calvary Chapel services while living in Budapest, I did get as close as peeking inside the basilicas during off-hours, listening to Rich Mullins and John Michael Talbot, reading Peter Kreeft, and wondering why Protestant evangelicalism seemed so plastic and hollow by comparison.
And while I have made it a goal to get over to Europe at least once a year, and having been successful for the past few by visiting Paris, Barcelona, and Budapest, it’s different now than it was during my twenties (when I literally just packed a couple suitcases at age 21 and moved to Hungary indefinitely). There’s something inspiring for me as a writer to sit out with a cigar, a crap German lager, and a pad and pen and bang out some poetry or prose. Now that I think about it, suburban Seattle is probably to blame for why I haven’t finished this damn novel yet….
So anyway, I’m glad to have an actual period that I experienced — Europe in the ’90s — to add to the periods I have only heard about but never got to live through (like Paris in the ’20s and New York in the ’50s). And if any of you are wondering what’s so great about the city of Budapest, check this out: