In my recent explorations around the blogsphere, I was delighted to discover the reflections of two French expatriates who left the Hexagone a few years ago for Seattle. It is both wonderful and slightly painful to read their impressions of the city of my birth.
There is a saying, "You can't step into the same river twice. " The city they describe is both deeply familiar and sometimes shockingly strange. Does every migrant dreaming of the home he left behind experience this strange dissonance? This disconnect between what he remembers and the reality that people and places don't stand still for you?
The first time this happened to me was on vacation a few years after I had moved to France. I flew in from Paris to the local airport and my brother drove me into town. When I saw that they had torn down a large sports stadium that had been a prominent part of the city skyline since I was a small child, I was filled with such rage. "How dare they do that," I thought, as though Seattle were a part of my personal patrimoine requiring my permission before they so much as clipped a hedge or painted a wall. Even now, as irrational as it sounds, I deeply resent any changes to my city.
I love where I'm from. Seattle is a gorgeous city, nestled between two stunning chains of mountains, with the ocean and lakes all around and miles and miles of ever green forests. People are friendly, polite and have a strong sense of civic duty. It is a tolerant city where people of many different persuasions rub along together quite harmoniously. It is large enough to have a fine public farmer's market, several universities and many hi-tech companies but it still small enough so that the rhythm of life is slower than in the huge cities like New York, Tokyo or Paris.
"So why don't you go home?" ask my friends. The only answer I can give is that I also love where I am.
Think of me as a young sapling from a temperate rain forest of the New World who, after being uprooted and spending many years acculturating, finally grew enough roots to find the soil of the Old World rich and warm and nourishing.
I'm from there but I bloomed here.
Once again I could have written that.
I love Paris. I love Rouen, my hometown. They are in my blood and I deeply miss them.
But right now, I don't want to leave Seattle at all. I'm blooming here.
Do you know this poem Robert Frost?
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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