I’m fascinated not only with place, but with other places. “Being elsewhere” might be the subtitle of this blog. Travel, imagination, transcendence, getting the hell out. Whether we’re talking about physical or mental places, they fit a pattern of restless search.
One night at dinner, I was talking about my love of traveling. My friend said, “You’re a gypsy.”
My daughter suddenly sat up straight. “But you’re a mother!” she said. She had been mentally wandering. But when parents start going places, children become very present.
Of course I’m a mother! That doesn’t mean I don’t bounce constantly between poles of “here” and “there.” For all kinds of practical reasons, we need to figure out a way to be home. In weird times of instability, that might mean thinking about where we stand.
So I’m taking the challenging of considering what it means to be “here,” not “there.”
“Here” has fascinating possibilities, both physical and metaphysical. Right now, by “here,” I have something very specific in mind. I’m zooming in from the labyrinth of the city. I’m zooming past the urban soul wandering in that labyrinth, past the houses and streets and glass and steel cities to the individuals within.
Right now, I’m seeing place as something very specific, the ground underneath one’s feet. I am seeing shoes on stones; I’m seeing feet. It is not about ownership or claim, about making something fixed and permanent, but about observing the subtle transfer that takes place between a person and place. The chemistry.
You can feel your feet claiming those paving stones, and you can feel the stones molding to the feet. You feel yourself channeling purpose so that the body is solidly inhabited and the spot given meaning.
The “I” is well secured in the midst of illusions of grandeur that swirl around you. Anybody can claim it, anyone. These are the most democratically available of all powers. This is the human’s rocksolid place, as the Mandelstam poem below says. Trendy cities and the urge to wage war can never match the humankind’s “place in the universal scheme.”
Osip Mandelstam, From “Stone” 66
Let the names of flowering cities
Caress the ear with their brief time of fame.
It’s not Rome the city that lives through the centuries
But man’s place in the universal scheme.
Kings try to capture that, and priests attempt
To use it when they justify a war;
Lacking that, houses and altars deserve contempt
Like a wretched heap of rubbish, nothing more.
Trans. Robert Tracy