Monday, July 02, 2007

it's life's illusions I recall

how's that thought for you?

For no apparent reason whatsoever, on Friday mid-sentence in conversation with K at the MOMA sculpture garden, a sudden, aching pang of longing leapt up within me for, of all things, Spain. Later, I tried to explain why an overwhelming wave of familiarity washed over me at that moment, but all my reasons were weak. Now I feel strangely certain it is specific to being on the East Coast.

I think about the two coasts more than I probably should. It is like I have always been so accustomed to a hyphenated identity that this coastal schizophrenia was inevitable. Or perhaps it is just circumstance that bounces me from one side of the country to the other. Whatever the reason, I feel I am constantly in a state of otherness, out on the fray collecting data.

At first, it had only to do with geography, the feel of it. When I initially saw the West Coast, I was blown away by its physical beauty. But when I let it seep in, really down deep, I felt the scale of things subtly exerting its influence. The landscapes are so sweeping and massive that it is hard not to feel very small. The insignificance of a single existence is punctuated by plunging coastal cliffs, ancient forests with towering redwoods, and narrow roads carved into canyons.

It is not that the East Coast lacks beauty though. I will always think of my home state as one of the prettiest areas in the country. But here the beauty lacks hyperbole. Your heart skips a beat instead of stopping altogether. The physical scale of the East Coast, it now seems to me, is strangely human. People fit here. Nature does not announce itself so emphatically that a person would even think to question whether he was meant to inhabit this space.

But now I have of course been overanalyzing it even further, and it seems that people have taken over the East Coast (or at least the Northeast). People have been battling it out with the East Coast for a lot longer than they've been trying to tame the West, and that kind of shows. The East is older and, because of that and its proximity, is somehow more connected to Europe. The West Coast seems newer and more of an elsewhere. I have come to think of that elsewhere as home, but I never seem to shake a feeling of disconnection (not necessarily in a bad way) from the rest of the country or the world.

But here I have rambled, and I have done the thing I always do. When I talked to RR today and he didn't know what a whoopie pie was, I called him such a Californian. But then on Friday, K and I nearly wrote a dissertation on East Coast characteristics that are tiresome- I even concluded that it was a dissatisfaction with New York that had made me think with such yearning of Spain. Maybe I just need to stop trying to fit all these squares into round holes. Maybe there is no East Coast and West Coast; there are only people who share commonalities with you and people who don't. Maybe, most likely, almost definitely, the aching longing for Spain at MOMA had more to do with being at an internationally acclaimed museum than it had to do with anything else. After all, I clocked a lot of hours in Spain at a multitude of museums, and I would note how everyone from all over the world was absorbing art in their own personal manner.

At the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, while taking in a fascinating exhibit of how Picasso reinterpreted Velazquez's Las Meninas, an Indian woman in her 40s or 50s approached me. Out of nowhere, and violating the unspoken pact of silence I always assumed everyone has at museums, she asked me, "Where are you from?"

Normally, such a question would feel loaded and I would get the eye muscles stretched for rolling, but coming from an Indian woman, I responded with what I felt at that moment. "I am from San Francisco, from the US."

She sighed impatiently. "But I take it you are somehow of Indian origin?" she demanded.

I thought it strange, but I nodded, dumbly for a moment. Then, emboldened by Spain and a shroud of anonymity, I decided to ask, "And where are you from?"

She was more flustered than I have ever been in the same situation. After a bit of hand-wringing, she just burst out, "Well, I am from nowhere." And that was it, we parted ways, and I was left to absorb the oddity of the whole experience.

And yet, if someone asked me today, especially if I was from the East or West Coast, I might answer exactly as she did.

No comments: