Global Nomads and TCKS- 21: The compulsion to depart

Edward Said on the many contradictory feelings and penchants of the global nomad: the fear of abandonment and the compulsion to abandon, the pain of departure and the compulsion to leave, the habit of packing as if one will never return to a place

The underlying motifs for me have been the emergence of a second self buried for a very long time beneath a surface of often expertly acquired and wielded social characteristics belonging to the self my paren­ts tried to construct, the “Edward” I speak of intermittently, and how an extraordinarily increasing number of departures have unsettled my life from its earliest beginnings. To me, nothing more painful and para­doxically sought after characterizes my life than the many displacements from countries, cities, abodes, languages, environments that have kept me in motion all these years. Thirteen years ago I wrote in After the Last Sky that when I travel I always take too much with me, and that even a trip downtown requires the packing of a briefcase stocked with items disproportionately larger in size and number than the actual period of the trip. Analyzing this, I concluded that I had a secret but ineradicable fear of not returning. What I’ve since discovered is that despite this fear I fabricate occasions for departure, thus giving rise to the fear voluntar­ily. The two seem absolutely necessary to my rhythm of life and have intensified dramatically during the period I’ve been ill. I say to myself: if you don’t take this trip, don’t prove your mobility and indulge your fear of being lost, don’t override the normal rhythms of domestic now, you certainly will not be able to do it in the near future. I also experience the anxious moodiness of travel (la mélancolie des paquebots, as Flaubert calls it, Bahnhofsstimmung  in German) along with envy for those who stay behind, whom I see on my return, their faces unshad­owed by dislocation or what seems to be enforced mobility, happy with their families, draped in a comfortable suit and raincoat, there  for all to see. Something about the invisibility of the departed, his being missing and perhaps missed, in addition to the intense, repetitious, and predict­able sense of banishment that takes you away from all that you know and can take comfort in, makes you feel the need to leave because of some prior but self-created logic, and a sense of rapture. In all cases, though, the great fear is that departure is the state of being abandoned even though it is you who leave.

 Out of Place: A Memoir

Originally posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 20: A new language releases us

Alice Kaplan on the pleasure of living in and speaking another language, in this case, French.  A new language can release us—to desire different thing, to claim new body parts, to become adult…

“It was not what France gave you but what it did not take away from you that was important”: Gertrude Stein pub­lished that line in Paris France in 1940, the year her adopted country caved in to the Nazis.

I’ve been willing to overlook in French culture what I wouldn’t accept in my own, for the privilege of living in translation.

Learning French and learning to think, learning to desire, is all mixed up in my head, until I can’t tell the difference. French is what released me from the cool complacency of the R Resisters, made me want, and like wanting, unbut­toned me and sent me packing. French demands my obe­dience, gives me permission to try too hard, to squinch up my face to make the words sound right. French houses words like “existentialism” that connote abstract thinking, difficulties to which I can get the key. And body parts which I can claim. French got me away from my family and taught me how to talk. Made me an adult. And the whole drama of it is in that “r,” how deep in my throat, how different it feels.

French Lessons: A Memoir

Originally posted Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 19: The wish to hold places still

Some thoughts from Andre Aciman on the global nomad’s wish for past places not to have changed.  Here he reflects on a return to Paris:

When I returned twenty years later, with my wife, the city had hardly changed. I still remembered the station names; the café on Avenue Victor Hugo was the same; and the shop on the Faubourg Saint Honoré where my grandmother had bought me a tie was still there, except much bigger and filled with Japanese tourists. The Victor Hugo movie theater had disappeared. In the old cafe around the corner, we ordered 2 café creme and a ham sandwich each.

Avenue Georges Mandel was quiet in the early evening. As we neared the corner where Aunt Elsa had lived, her building suddenly came into view.

I pointed upstairs and showed my wife the window from which Aunt Elsa had thrown her husband’s pipe on New Year’s Eve to make a wish. I showed her the building nearby where Maria Callas had lived. They had spoken in Greek to her, corrected her Greek once.

We took pictures. Of the building. Of me standing in front of the building. Of her taking pictures of me standing in front of the building. She asked again which floor they had lived on. The fifth, I said. We looked up. The windows of Aunt Elsa’s studio were unlit and the shutters drawn. Of course they’re unlit, no one’s home, I thought to myself. They’ve been dead for twenty years! But then, the apartment couldn’t have stayed empty for so many years; surely it belonged to someone else. I seemed to recall that Vili himself had sold it. Still, what if it had never changed hands in all these years, if nothing had changed, if no one had even picked up the fork or touched the cardigan Aunt Elsa let fall before being rushed to the hospital on the night she died? What if her furniture and her china and her clothes and everything she hoarded throughout her life kept vigil for her and remained forever and only hers by dint of the life she had spun around them?

And for a moment I thought that this might also be true of the apartment on Rue Thebes, that after sixty years with us it could never belong to anyone else and would be forever ours. I wanted to think that it, too, remained exactly the way we left it, that no one cried or quarreled there, that dust collected in the corners, that children were never allowed to scream as they sprinted past the junk room where Flora loved, Vili wept, and Latifa died.

 Out of Egypt: A Memoir

Originally posted Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 18: Beauty as solace

Czeslaw Milosz on coping with departure and the curative powers of landscape:

 The classic result of all sudden ruptures and reversals is the rumination on one’s own worthlessness and the desire to punish oneself, known as delectatio morosa. I would never have been cured of it had it not been for the beauty of the earth. The clear autumn mornings in an Alsatian village surrounded by vineyards, the paths on an Alpine slope over the Isere River, rustling with dry leaves from the chestnut trees, or the sharp light of early spring on the Lake of Four Cantons near Schiller’s rock, or a small river near Perigueux on whose surface kingfishers traced colored shadows of flight in the July heat—all this reconciled me with the universe and with myself.

 Native Realm

Originally posted Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 17: The grief of departure

In this passage from my book Of Many Lands, I recall the grief brought on by my departure from The Netherlands:

 Holland was my land of soggy farm fields, of Van Gogh, of wind­mills thrumping in the wind and frigid winter walks by the sea. It is the place I attended a Victorian house of a school, where I fell off a fat pony three times in an hour, where I read seven Enid Blytons in a week. It is the place I tasted pure freedom, zooming around Wassenaar on my bike, and the place I learned I could play soccer as well as a boy. Holland is the place my mother wore her long, baggy raincoat and translated Dutch at a rug-covered table, and where my father rode to work on his bike. It is where I made a twelve foot gum wrapper chain, and where I ran for student council and lost because I was a girl. It is the place I first tasted the elixir of belonging to a crowd, and it is the site of my first kiss.

When I left Holland at age thirteen I wept all the way in the car to Le Havre. When the grief was finally spent, something in me was broken. It was the kind of fracture that hurts with the sharpest pain the first time around. Holland was my first broken heart.

Did your heart ever break when you left a place? Think of that place and the things you loved doing there. Then remember the feeling of leaving there. Describe both.

Originally posted Wednesday, May 22st, 2013