Home Again

On the plane to Paris, I read articles about a new show coming to HBO, called Americatown. It imagines a future when Chinatown-style American ghettoes have sprung up all over the world, as Americans leave, looking for greater opportunity elsewhere. I remember a taxi ride in Los Angeles a few years ago, when the driver told me that he was moving back to India, so his son could get a decent education. I asked him about it. He was upset, having made so many sacrifices to come to the US, to find the math and science educations so lacking.

I imagine Americans, forced to go overseas to get a decent education in math and science.

In Paris, when I walk past the restaurants offering American food, I think of this show and the taxi driver.

*                                 *                               *

On the day after the visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte, nothing seems as rich or beautiful. I have to go to visit the hunting chateau of the Emperor Louis Napoleon and his wife Eugenie, and I spend two days there, studying the layout of the gardens, of the apartments, of the Imperial theater, the way you would escape from the music room out to the garden and then through the gardens to the train. If you had to.

On the second day of being there the memory of Vaux finally fades.

In the museum at the hunting chateau, I examine drawings of the Tuileries interiors. I find a room in the museum at the chateau apparently devoted to the Emperor’s two most important mistresses, the British actress he threw over to marry Eugenie, and the Italian comtesse who made Eugenie take to bed for a month. The rooms are tricky—they are renovated according to different centuries. It’s strange to visit a place I’ve been writing about for two years per accounts I’ve read and photos. Many of the things I thought were true are true, but some are wrong, and I’m glad of the trip for that alone.

On the first night back from the palace I go with Brandon to get a fancy drink. We decided we wanted fancy drinks, something epic or just incredible. We go past the hotel bars in the Palais Royale to the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, and I look at the epic kitsch surrounding us on the walls as we sit down. I open the menus. The cocktails are 25 and 40 Euros. Everywhere, eery smiling photos of Hemingway. I’m reminded of the statue of Brandon is quiet and I notice he appears to be keeping back his revulsion.

This is like the Hard Rock Cafe of writers, I say. It’s insane.

I didn’t understand why you came in and sat down, he says.

We leave swiftly and head to Harry’s, the Bar where Hemingway actually drank. We have two okay drinks in the historic bar and while we finish the second drink, we hear this woman from the front of the bar ask loudly, “What’s French for mojito?”

Brandon offers a swift, obscene possibility. We leave, getting Korean food and then beers at The Duplex, my new favorite bar in Paris.

*                                 *                               *

In the end, the trip feels too short. Before I know it, I’m leaving Paris and I feel, on the plane, a swift revulsion at the idea of returning as well as a homesickness for Paris, which after just a day had felt like home. I don’t know how the election is going to turn out, as I sit in the plane, and when the pilot says, “prepare for landing at Newark International Airport.” On that plane, the events of the election seem remote. There seems like a strong chance that the country will elect (I almost typed “The World”) a biracial former Constitutional law professor and writer to the most powerful office in the land, but as I walk out and stand in line for the immigration, I still don’t or can’t believe it.

When the election comes two and a half weeks later, Brandon tells me, The cafes in your neighborhood were open all night with people celebrating.

By this he means, Les Halles. When he says it, I experience the homesickness for Paris. But by the time I leave for Portland, OR, on Thursday, to take four of my students to Wordstock, I feel like I’ve moved to a new country.

1 Comment

  1. Your Paris to Portland path makes me think you are a natural expat, vibrating in the constant comparison. Feeling good about America makes me want to be there too instead of in Hamburg, but I also wonder if the math here is okay enough for my kid if I stay. I must add, the Germans were happy for me about the election. They know how it is to feel ashamed about a lunatic for which we are not all responsible.

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