Czeslaw Milosz on America:
All of us yearn for a certain point on the earth where the highest wisdom accessible to humanity dwells, and it is hard to admit that such a point does not exist, that we have to rely only upon ourselves.
Nevertheless, in the fall of 1950 I said farewell to America. That was probably the most painful decision of my life—though none other was permissible. During my four-and-a-half-year stay, I had grown attached to the country and wished it the best. Its overheated civilization may have sometimes irritated me, but at the same time I had never come across so many good people ready to help their neighbor, a trait that could be all the more valued by this newcomer from the outer shadows, where to jump at one’s neighbor’s throat was the rule.
Originally posted Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
I reflect here on the pleasure of speaking another language:
One day I went out marketing with my mother in Tokyo. At each little shop— the butcher’s and the baker’s and the vegetable seller’s—I did the talking, asking for a kilo of carrots or onions, a sack of sugar buns, a pound of Kobe beef, using the Japanese from my summer tutorial. Each time a clerk at a shop responded to my words by loading carrots into a paper cone or tying up buns in paper and colored string, I felt a little dollop of triumph drop through my body.
Do you remember the delight of communicating in a new language? Recollect a time you felt that sense of satisfaction. Or recollect your frustration with having to tackle a new language. Or bring back that time you goofed up in another language or couldn’t understand what was going on around you.
Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood
Originally posted Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
Alice Kaplan on her love of France:
Why do people want to adopt another culture? Because there’s something in their own they don’t like, that doesn’t name them.
French still calls out to me in the most primitive way. If I’m in a crowded room and there are two people speaking French all the way on the other side of the room, I’ll hear, loud as day, as though a friend were calling my name. My ears prick up. I become all ears, hearing every word, noticing the words I don’t know or haven’t heard for a while and remembering when I last heard them. I’ll eavesdrop shamelessly, my attention now completely on that conversation, as if I belong in it; I’ll start trying to figure out how to get in on it.
French Lessons: A Memoir
Originally posted Wednesday, March 27th, 2012
Czeslaw Milosz notes that places now left behind are nevertheless imprinted on a child’s psyche:
Knowledge does not have to be conscious. It is incredible how much of the aura of a country can penetrate a child. Stronger than thought is an image—of dry leaves on a path, of twilight, of a heavy sky. In the park, revolutionary patrols whistled back and forth to each other. The Volga was the color of black lead. I carried away forever the impression of concealed terror, of inexpressible dialogues confided in a whisper or a wink of the eye. The mansion waited resignedly for the promised murder of all its inhabitants, a murder that, presumably, would not have spared the fugitives. And among those refugees, who were there by chance, fear was rampant. I also carried away the image of Orthodox church cupolas seen against a bluish-red sky with flocks of circling jackdaws, the paving of Rjev’s streets, on which a passing cart would leave a fine trail of seeds from a torn sack, and the shrieks of fur-capped children as they launched their kites.
Originally posted Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Here is a passage from my writing guide for global nomads, Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood:
Holland is for me what childhood should be: freedom, bikes, canals, fields. The brick row house in downtown The Hague where I spent the five middle years of my childhood was the best home I ever had. To think of its big, leaky bedrooms with fireplaces, its ballroom-size bathrooms, its furniture-stuffed attics is to bring me a sensation of sleepy protectedness. A canopy that holds fast even under drumming rain. That home had for me what Patricia Hampl, the memoirist, calls “the radiance of the past,” for it was home the way it is when you are young: the home your parents give you.
Bring to mind the homes of your childhood. When you think of those houses, which of them glow? Describe one of them, being sure to incorporate concrete details, and using all your senses.
Originally posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013