June 13, 2012

Places and People and Things and Ideas

It has been ten years since I was first in Europe. A third of my life away. It was Paris then and it is London now. It was ingenue then and it is teacher now. It was a world and a lifetime ago, and I feel all those rotations of the earth in my body, in all the stories I have lived and told since then. Life moves quickly. Paris at twenty was a dusky sweep of January street lights, of bridge painters, long afternoon hours spent in cafes with glasses of wine and pages of my journal. I had arrived there among other students, but knowing no one. I cherished my solo walks down back streets, my eager and bumbling exchanges with shopkeepers in my best French, a language I knew only by the vocabulary post-it notes I had used to wallpaper my dorm room. I sat in the Luxembourg Gardens on mornings crisp enough to reveal one's breath, and I dipped a baguette into jam and watched the birds brave my presence for the crumbs. I read Gertude Stein and Eliot and Lowell and Hem. I thought, I know what it is to be me now, in this new place, with no one claiming me, no one with preconcieved notions, no one to rush me elsewhere. I can be as much and as little as I want. And I was. I did. I danced close with strangers in jazz clubs, tossed coins into the Seine at 4 a.m., felt my blood racing down and up and out and back and pounding pounding alive alive alive. I had a boyfriend back home, but I didn't want to go back. I had a family who had tucked sweet notes into my suitcase, but I didn't want to go back. I had my life planned, but I wanted to scrap it. Run off. Be the girl without limits, who lives in the intoxicating haze of no accountability except for the page you write with your own ink. Paris. I wonder if you've changed? London at thirty has been less romantic, more full of alarm clocks and puddles and sliced white bread, but also the giggles of teenage girls and antics of teenage boys and the thoughts of one who is accountable for all of them. Ten years ago, this would have been a weight. But today, with these fine lines around my eyes, with these years of leading classrooms of sixteen-year-olds through Julius Caesar, I lead them to The Globe and am warmed at their recognition, I take them on the Tube and give them high fives when they return hours later having mastered that web of colors, and I am content walking around St. Paul's Cathedral with Ally and Ashley, listening to all the youth in their dozens of street stories, and not wishing that I was anything other than me, thirty, in a baggy red rain coat with frizzy hair and a heart full of all the roads I have traveled. I think, I know what it is to be me now, in this new place, with my loved ones thousands of miles away, with them a thousand miles the stuff of my veins, with them being my everywhere home. I am as much and as little as I will ever be because--as sentimental as it sounds--I am loved in particular ways. Big ways. Waves that undulate across oceans and borders. I marvel at the tomb of Queen Elizabeth the first in Westminister Abbey, I wander past the Oxus Treasure and massive busts of ancient pharos in the British Museum, and I coast through Hyde Park on a smooth rented bike that reminds me of two white ones rented back in southern Minnesota with my darling, and I feel my heart squeeze, my heart squeeze, my love running out and in and up and away and down and far flung, and I am so thankful so thankful that I have a husband at home, who I want to go back to, a dear family at home who I hold with such tenderness, a life that I did not foresee, in that it's turned out so differently that I imagined it on the edge of the Seine, French wind in my hair, poems on my tongue. Those poems are still there. Still here, tonight. But now, despite the beauty and wonder of the elsewheres, they are full of the nouns of home.

34 comments:

  1. Emily, this is wonderful; impassioned, spontaneous, heartfelt writing. It tells the stories of all of us who fell in love with Paris when we were young, or anywhere else that was exotic, foreign and definitely not home. Thanks so much for what seems like a nostalgia trip of my own! And I'm glad you're enjoying London, that noisy, smelly, chaotic web of contradictions.
    Ian

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    1. Thanks, Ian. I'm pleased that you could relate to my feelings about Paris. This entire essay came out at midnight in a gush of words that I didn't have time to edit much, so...glad it made some sense! I really did fall I love with paris, so it was interesting comparing it to London now that I've experienced a few other adventures. :) We're in Switzerland now, and are appreciating all the differences between the two locales. Enjoyed that small corner of your country, and I certainly hope to see more of it someday. Cheers!

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    2. Hmmm...somehow I don't picture Switzerland producing the same upwelling of immediate emotion as your memories of Paris did....... It's a very pretty country, but.....
      Anyway, it's clear that your Joycean spontaneous writing approach was a great success - more, please!
      Enjoy the chocolate

      Ian

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    3. "Enjoy" is a bit too tame of a verb for all this Toblerone... :)

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  2. Emily:

    This is a warm and inviting essay, carrying the reader along with you.

    From: ..."I know what it is to be me now, no one claiming me..."

    To: "...thankful I have a husband at home who I want to go back to."

    Richard

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    1. Thanks, Richard! These past ten years have certainly been a journey, but I suppose that's all part of the fun. :)

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  3. Beautiful, Em. You have a gift.

    Love,
    Lisa

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    1. Not sure if you remember, Lisa, but my first European adventure was actually in seventh grade when I wrote the story of my virtual trip there based on lots of travel brochures my father brought home and my over active imagination. My travel partner? You.

      Miss you, friend!

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  4. It is nice to be able to compare then and now. Even better, to be happy with your life these days. I enjoyed reading your trip reflections very much.

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    1. So glad, Sandy. I appreciate your comments here!

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  5. I was first in Paris ten years ago, too. You wrote so beautifully of it here. I vowed not to let ten more years pass before I visit it again. London sounds dreamy.

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    1. It was dreamy. Full of a perfect morning fog. And, yes, keep your vow! Go back! My coins into the Seine was an act representing a similar promise. I'll get back there some day, too.

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  6. I love how this one moves and grows. So much in so few words -- a life, really. And it is nice to be loved, eh? To want to go home.
    Enjoy the time while you're there...and I'm looking forward to another dispatch from Europe!

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    1. Yes, indeed. And thanks, Erin. We're currently in Grindelwald, Switzerland, and after all that hiking? The words might come a bit slower. But...another dispatch some time soon!

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  7. This is an incredible piece- so beautiful and describes Europe so well.

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  8. When I was about 30 I told my grandmother about this girl I'd been in love with for a really long time.

    "How long?" she asked.

    "FIVE years!" I replied.

    She nodded, and smiled this quiet little smile. That I didn't understand for another 30 years.

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    1. This has been the fastest year of my life, Phil. Somehow I know that thirty years from now will be here in a blink. Gotta soak it up!

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  9. I love this, Emily! I think most of us find ourselves in a very different place at thirty than the one we envisioned at twenty, and it is more than alright. I echo your sentiments completely. Enjoy your trip!

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    1. Thank you, Julie! I'm all for life turning out NOT as planned. Part of the adventure. :) Hope you and fam are well.

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  10. Lisa (splitpeatraveler - I'm not currently logged in).June 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Distant horizons have a way of calling to us, but so, too, does home. Beautiful essay.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. It's that pull and tug that gets me.

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  11. Emily, So glad I had time to catch up on your blog today. What a breathtaking bit of heart you've got pulsing in that essay. Bee-yoo-tiful as our good friend Dave would say. Thanks so much.

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    1. Thanks for stopping, Jen. My favorite kinds of writing are the pouring-out ones, and sometimes a particulr place brings me into that, dare I say it, flow. Glad you liked this one. :)

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  12. Poetry and an essay and a love letter and a travel story all rolled into one beautiful piece of "wordful art" that left my eyes brimming with tears.

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  13. As you indicate here, life IS a journey and it is up to us to ride along gracefully or swim against the tide. The writer, the observer can do either effectively, but the observer is left with more energy and resilience. Thanks for this beautifully written piece. An interesting look into your thinking and who you are.

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    1. Glad you liked it, Bill. The older I get, the more I understand how important the journey is.

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  14. Another lovely post, Emily... such a heartfelt, beautiful reflection on some special pages in your life's story. It's very true that the more the years pass, the more such remembered moments connect with other memories, and with where and who one is... Like Wordsworth's 'spots of time' - those moments kind of slowly reveal their fuller significance when revisited, bringing us deeper understanding.

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    1. I completely agree, Melanie. I didn't go into this visit thinking about my first one, but the associations just came. I love that 'spot of time' idea. Moments that shape us, indeed.

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  15. Your words are quite simply....beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Of course. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

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  16. Ah Emily what a treat to catch up with you again after a long time away. This was, as everyone who has commented agrees, a glorious essay, a burst of beauty! Thanks for sharing not only your story but your heart!

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    1. So pleased you stopped back, Barbara. Sharing my own experiences here on this blog has definitely been a highlight...I so enjoy connecting with others.

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