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PLACES (of the earth & mind)
Saturday
Mar032012

A potato on the run

Jhumpa Lahiri begins her novel Unaccustomed Earth with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorn:

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replated, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be in my control, shall strike thier fortunes into unaccustomed earth."

The point of his quote (and Lahiri's excellent book) are that those who stay in the same place for generations tend to be week potatoes. Or conversely (and more generously) the ones who hit the road tend to be made of tougher stuff.

My family is definitely a sack of sturdy potatoes. My great-grandmother, the matriarch of my family, was an immigrant from Yugoslavia in her thirties. Her husband boarded a sea-vessel on his own at age 12 in an attempt to make it in the new world. My mother's side of the family only arrived on the west coast 45 years ago. California is my family's adventure. 

So what's with my urge to flee? My only guess is that modern time moves at warp speed. Hawthorne spent 49 years on the eastern seaboard before he joined the foreign service and went to Liverpool. 27 years was more than enough time for me to get the itch. 

We Californians think we are very special (although, apparently so do the Texans...hehe). In all seriousness, the left coast is a pretty great home base. Being a Californian has always had some unspoken meaning to me. John and I have a theory about people who were born in or grew up there: they must come from adventurous stock. Someone in their not-so-distant lineage moved to gold country to pursue some dream.  A lust for adventure runs thick in our veins. When John's father was young, he raised and sold calves at auction in a small town in Nebraska. A few decades later, he raised his own children on the edge of the North American continent in the paradise of Manhattan Beach. See? The stuff dreams are made of.

So there you have it, maybe I am by nature a frontier woman. I have never had interest in the trodden path. Alright, that's a baldfaced lie...I've tried the trodden path it aplenty, against all better judgment. It always turned out to be an excrutiaing self-relavatory process that ended in failure. Jesus, this Pilsner is making me melodramatic. In truth, all that really happened was that I landed right back where I started...alone with my own self and my own talents and my own limitations. It wouldn't have been so devestating if I'd just accepted who I really was in the first place: one odd fry, looking for same. Maybe the reason things have worked out so well in the last five years is that I found another odd-fry and he was ready to hit the road too.

The thing is, moving to a new country is fairly easy. No really, I've done way harder things....like figuring out how to pay back taxes, finishing college after a false start...losing ten pounds (which, by the way, happened IMMEDIATELY after I moved to a walkable city).

For as many people I meet who say they wish they could move abroad, I don't know why more people don't try it. Let's see...you can join the military, that will get your ass on a plane in no time (although, good luck landing in a desirable destination). You can google "how to move to Europe" over a bottle of wine and end up in living in Prague two months later (true story, for another time). People seem to think that once you "grow up" and "have kids" you have to be realistic set down some roots. You know, do ADULT THINGS. I'm going to let you in on a little secret (and don't quote me on this):  I have....seen kids.....all over the world.  It's true! I've seen them learning Japanese in schools in Okinawa, playing in the parks in Paris, and (gasp!) backpacking with their parents in India. Say it with me: The kids. Are gonna be. FINE. They'll also be a hell of a lot cooler, more worldly, and less likely to turn into Sarah Palin if you planted their cute little buns on some unfamiliar earth.

So what's the point in moving abroad? All current economic troubles and political chaos aside, America is one amazing invention. In the eyes of many other cultures around the world, Americans are all inventions--success stories created out of thin air. Steve Jobs-style. (Oh they love the Jobby-Jobs out here.  He comes up my classes almost as much as Brad Pitt.) Why would anyone want to leave that land of endless possibility for the uncertainty of abroad?

The basis of our American origin-story is that we can become anything we want to be. It's not just an Army slogan. It is actually, legitimately true. And I don't really believe the so-called American dream has to have anything to do with making a fortune. I think it's about creating a life. So why not invent a swash-buckling, adventure-seeking nomad personality and move abroad for a year or a decade?

Unfortunately for Gunner, this maxim of endless possibility only extends to American homosapiens....a street kitty he will never be. However, his third move in five years did put him much closer to his life-long dream of snagging a Kielbasa sausage of his very own. 

And on that note--"Zaplatime, prosim!" (check, please)  It's time for me to go home. And by that, I mean, to my 4th story walk up down the road at 25 Jugoslavska, Prague 2. What a crazy dream.

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Reader Comments (1)

Fantastic blog. Your links in this are wonderful. I went via all this and I very many thanks for your advice.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDelhi to Agra Taxi

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