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Welcome to Night Vale Recap: Episode 21 “A Memory of Europe”

Enjoy the painful impermanence of time, kids!

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This episode is one that has a special place in my heart. I was actually lucky enough to go backpacking in Europe myself last summer. In fact, I listened to this episode while I was wandering through Paris, looking for the Eifel tower. This is one that always gives me a painful yet happy jab of nostalgia when I hear it. Because, for all the weirdness of Night Vale, “A Memory of Europe” really does capture a certain feeling of youth and adventure coupled with the stark realization that not all possibilities can happen. Choices must be made and that is both terrible and beautiful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We actually begin with an update on the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex (and the presumably hostile city underneath it). The bowling alley’s owner, Teddy Williams, wants to start a militia to constantly watch the entrance to the city, which is under lane five. This may cause a disruption for events like league night, but at least citizens will be safe from the presumed underground menace.

The Man in the Tan Jacket and the Apache Tracker were both seen outside the bowling alley having what looked like a serious conversation. Whatever is going on at the Desert Flower, it’s certainly attracting significant attention from intriguing places. Also, there’s this bit:

“The Man in the Tan Jacket was described as “impossible to remember,” but presumably a man of some kind, with facial features, and limbs.

The Apache Tracker was described as a real jerk, just now, by me. ”

This episode came out in spring, a time that brings back fond memories for Cecil. During his college years he went backpacking through Europe and apparently had a wonderful time. He recommends it for anyone who can afford to go, which I appreciate. A lot of the time people give out idealistic advice like “You should spend a year finding yourself while backpacking” and completely disregard how financially impossible that is for a lot of people. Cecil acknowledges that his experience meant a lot to him, but also that he was very lucky to have the opportunity to travel abroad for so long. (He doesn’t specify that he was gone a year. Actually, as we’ll soon see, it’s a little tricky to have any sense of how long he was away.)

The first country he talks about is a land called Svitz. Now, when I first heard this episode I drove myself nuts trying to remember if there was some tiny European country called Svitz. There is not. None of the countries Cecil talks about are real. Now you are safe from the pain I went through.

Svitz is a land defined by its many rolling hills. Cecil went there with an unnamed “traveling partner” (an old boyfriend?). The hostel they stayed at was on an incline that made them repeatedly roll out the door and to the bottom of the hill they were on. Cecil seems to remember it all fondly, despite the fact that they always rolled into a patch of thorns and got very little sleep. Interestingly, Cecil doesn’t remember who his traveling companion was, nor does he recall traveling with anyone except in Svitz. We also get a sense that time is weird in certain places outside of Night Vale too. Cecil doesn’t know how long he rolled down that hill and climbed back up it, but believes it could have easily been for a decade. Eventually he woke up in another country, years older and surrounded by people who had never heard of Svitz.

Next we hear a story about Trish Hidge, a woman who works in the mayor’s office. Trish called a press conference by a large truck and then steadfastly denied the truck’s existence. She denied several other common items as well, including eggs. Eventually she admitted that the whole stunt was just to hone her denial skills, which she must keep sharp while working for the mayor. It’s a good point. It must take a lot of practice to plausibly claim that a pack of feral dogs were just plastic bags.

Then we briefly hear from Simone Rigadeau, the transient who lives in a closet of the Earth Sciences Building at Night Vale Community College. Simone claims that the world has ended. In fact, it ended several decades ago. She doesn’t know what reality everyone is living in now, but it isn’t the world. Take that as you will. Cecil doesn’t seem to make much of it.

Returning to Cecil’s memories, he next recalls his time in Franchia. Franchia was a place that really made Cecil see that cultures can be radically different and that there’s a lot to learn by going new places. For instance, in Franchia there are no people and the only buildings are countless arches. Eventually he became convinced that there was some sort of monster stalking him through the labyrinth of arches. He ran for the country’s border and may have felt a claw on his back right before he crossed over. Still, that doesn’t detract from his fond memories of exploring the arches and sleeping under the stars.

The last country Cecil recalls is Luftnarp, a place that at least had people in it. Cecil arrived there tired and hungry, but still keen to not look like the typical ignorant American tourist. (His voice on that line is adorable. It perfectly captures a certain kind of egotistical mentality I’ve seen where a person thinks that they’re cultured and liberal but still only knows a sentence in the local language and expects to be treated like royalty because of it.) In Luftnarp everyone had ashy, gray skin and mouths that hung open to absurd lengths. They didn’t really serve him food at the local restaurant, but they didn’t stop him from raiding the kitchen for moldy potatoes.

This episode’s weather is “Sni Bong” by Dengue Fever.

When we get back Cecil gets a bit philosophical about his memories of Europe. He feels the pain of nostalgia thinking about that time, longing for the adventures of his youth. At the same time, he recognizes that nostalgia isn’t just about wanting what has past. It’s about the sadness of realizing what you didn’t do, what you can now never do. Cecil mentions the sight of a remote mountain town he saw from a train while he traveled and I know just what he means. I saw many such towns myself, ones that were hidden away in the Alps and looked so beautiful I literally gasped. But those towns were out of the way. I had other places to go. I had a month to see just a few parts of Europe and it seemed like so much time but still not enough. I don’t know if I will ever go to those towns now, nor if seeing them would have been at all better than the places I did go.

That’s the nostalgic pain Cecil is talking about. For a moment as he speaks it all seems so tragic, all the opportunities we lose just by living. But then he points out that we always still have the present. Today is also a time of infinite opportunities and the future is still something we have power over. And that, readers, is always something to celebrate.

Conspiracy Tracker:

1. Angels are living with Old Woman Josie and the City Council wants to capture them.
2. There’s a house that doesn’t exist.
3. The Apache Tracker has changed into a real Native American and only speaks Russian
4. Time is weird in Night Vale and Carlos wants to figure it out.
5. Cecil wants to be swallowed by a giant snake.
6. There’s a city underneath the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex.
7. Literal five-headed dragon Hiram McDaniels wants to be the next mayor.
8. Pets become perfect when you accept them…
9. What the heck is the dog park?
10. Russian=Weirdness
11. Cecil hates Steve Carlsberg for unknown reasons.
12. Night Vale has a surprising fixation on actor Lee Marvin.
13. Two boy scouts are close to becoming Eternal Scouts.
14. The Apache Tracker and angels are watching the Desert Flower.
15. Night Vale is prone to duplication and Desert Bluffs is one of the duplicates.
16. A dark planet is calling to people.
17. People are shipping crates with tiny houses inside.
18. There’s a man with a tan jacket who’s affiliated with the underground city.
19. There’s an old oak door on John Peters’ farm.
20. Desert Bluffs is controlled by the evil company StrexCorp.
21. A blinking red light is coming from somewhere unknown.
22. Simone Rigadeau thinks the world ended decades ago.
23. Cecil doesn’t know how old he is.

Alex Townsend is freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!

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