Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Chez moi, ou non pas? (My home, or not?)

"Please don't park here - car exit" Paris, 2012

I remember when I was eleven or so, I went on a trip with my brothers to Ohio, for a family friend's wedding. Staying in her apartment, one of a large building that encircled an active courtyard, I recorded the sounds that were so unusual - normal to someone but not to me - and enjoyed listening to them again and again. I wasn't bothered by being "kept awake" - I was curious about this place where even the pace of speech differed.

I could hear people's conversations, something I didn't often overhear in my quiet, "a suburb not attached to a larger city" town of upbringing. I heard basketball and sirens, yelling and people running around. It was what made me most aware I was elsewhere.

So, when I woke from a nap this afternoon in the lovely, light and open fifth story bedroom of my host's place in Paris, I had a similar curiosity. For a moment, I thought I was at home:
I heard skateboards outside, cars shuffling around one another, a cat on my left, cuddled up close.
It could have been home: comfortable, clean, cozy.
Only, it's not.

The first clue, the first reminder was the sound of a french ambulance. I have known this sound for twenty years now, since first coming to France at age 16. So it is familiar, but definitely not Madison. Sometimes even the familiarity of French, while rusty, throws me off - because I am hearing a sound I know, but not my "home" sound.

Then, I made a phone call, the sound of a French phone tone in my ears, waiting for someone to pick up or for their voice mail to kick in. When I first heard this sound as a teenager, I thought the phone was broken, or I'd made an error. Why wasn't it RINGING?

Finally, the more subtle, less distinctive but all-pervasive sound of European cars and horns, engines and driving patterns, all so different in their own ways from those outside my house near a busy street in Madison. It was this, underneath all, five stories below, that drove - pun intended - it home:

You are in Paris. 

The Eiffel Tower at a distance, coming in from the airport didn't tell me.
Seeing the Champs-Elysees on a map didn't do it.
What really made me aware of where I am are these sounds that I know well,
but also are not my home.
Well, not the one I usually live in, anyway.

Paris, yes, is a home, in a way. Maybe not my home, but a home.
This quote is not true for me, but it points to some kind of dual-citizenship of the heart that I do feel coming back:
America is my country and Paris is my hometown. -Gertrude Stein

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