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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Disloyal — or Accommodating?

Oak tree, Arizona
The extreme contrast between the two centers and the two influences became itself a blessing: it rendered flagrant the limitations and the contingency of both. …In each of these places there was a maximum of air, of space, of suggestion; in each there was a minimum of deceptiveness and of the power to enslave. - George Santayana, Persons and Places: The Background of My Life

The passage above introduces the chapter called “Avila,” the center and influence of Santayana’s life in Spain, as it contrasted with his American life in Boston. He describes Avila as an ancient country town, dependent for its sustenance on the surrounding agricultural lands, which it can never shut out or forget.

The town walls, for all their massiveness, do not shut out the country from the eye. At every turn, through one of the city gates, or over some bastion, the broad valley remains visible with its checker-board of sloughed fields and straggling poplars lining the straight roads, or clustered along the shallow pools by the river; and at night, in the not too distant mountains, the shepherds’ fires twinkle like nether stars. Or if the townspeople are too busy and nearsighted to remember the country, the country every Friday morning invades the town, and fills the market place with rustics and rustic wares. At dawn they ride in from their villages in groups, on their trembling little donkeys….

As a confirmed country mouse, I am most enchanted by Santayana’s descriptions of his home in Spain and his walks taken from the town out into the countryside. The world of Boston, even the limited world of Harvard, one can find in so many other books of the period, and, in any case, it is not the world that attracts me. Similarly, I lose myself in the first volume of Proust, wandering with him through the countryside surrounding Combray, but lose interest in the second volume, with the country left far behind and all focus placed instead on human relationships in a limited social stratum, where the actors have little to do but obsess on one another’s words and looks and gestures. Yes, of course, human psychology is endlessly fascinating, but so is the rest of the world, and “society,” for me, without a wider focus in which to view it in natural and historical perspective, fast becomes suffocating.

Michigan field and trees
Give me open spaces! I have, however, found enchantment in Proust’s final volume, where he “refinds" the past living on, but that is another story.

Like my winter base in Dos Cabezas, Arizona, my Michigan home in Leelanau County is blessed with “a maximum of air, of space….” Suggestion? Yes, that, too, I suppose. Also, in Northport (as Santayana observes in Avila), one can never forget the fruit orchards or Lake Michigan, while here, in like manner, whatever Cochise County town one visits the range is never shut out but always visible on the streets. In Northport in summer, tractors and cherry shakers make their slow way through town traffic, followed in turn, in their own time, by heavy trucks hauling cherries to the processor, a sequence replaced in fall by the apple harvest parade. Here in Arizona, besides the weekly livestock auction in Willcox, there  are on every road and in every town livestock trailers hauling cattle (and often saddled horses), along with pickup trucks carrying bales of hay and huge bulk water containers. 

Cattle on open range

Dandelions in cherry orchard

But reminders of country sustenance are not the only outside reality always present in the towns. Beyond what human beings bring into being and provide for one another, there is what nature has long ago formed, remaining into the present. So always, every day, on all sides, except during hours of snow or fog or blowing dust that temporarily obscures their outlines, the mountains are present to the eye and soul. They are to this part of the country, to my winter eye and heart, what lakes are to Michigan.

“We’re surrounded by mountains,” the Artist observes on one morning drive from ghost town to cow town.

“Like Shangri-La,” I hint mischievously, for the night before we had watched watched the old movie “Lost Horizon,” based on the James Hilton novel.

The Artist snorts. He finds my comparison absurd, and yet I am prepared to argue (“You would argue with St. Peter himself!” my mother used to say in exasperation) that Dos Cabezas is better than Shangri-La in many ways. For one thing, Dos Cabezas is a real place, and we’re here. It isn’t a book or movie that’s going to come to an end and dump me back in someplace I don’t want to be. And — how many of you have seen the movie? Do you remember that there is no jealousy in Shangri-La, because the men are so “generous” that they willingly share “their” women with anyone who desires them? Believe me, that did not escape my notice! The women seem to have nothing to say in the matter, and it is not they who are “generous,” but the men! Shangri-La? No, thank you!

Desert view, Cochise County

Water view, Leelanau County

Well, nothing on earth is perfect, and no one on earth is perfect, but we human beings (like other animals) make homes for ourselves, and over the course of time most of us develop feelings for the places we live, even if they are not places into which we were born. One of my friends, born in Rhode Island, has been married for decades to a Brazilian, with the consequence that they divide their lives between the eastern U.S. and Sao Paulo. (Sorry, Jeanie, this program lacks many of the accent marks I would otherwise employ.) Another friend lives half the year (winter) in northern Michigan and the other half (their winter) in southern Australia, while still another maintains dual U.S.-Irish citizenship. As for me, I have few if any memories of my infant and baby life in South Dakota, only snapshots and ephemera carefully saved by my mother.

Northern Michigan and southeast Arizona. I love them both. Is a divided loyalty a lesser loyalty? What do you say? 

I used to think so, but now I think“divided” is not the right adjective at all. It is a dual loyalty that people with two home places feel. And if that is not possible, how would it ever be possible to love equally more than one child?

At home in Michigan

One road home in Arizona

4 comments:

Jeanie Furlan said...

Yes, dear Pamela, there is not divided loyalty for two places of residence, rather dual loyalty, as you so aptly mention. And like Ávila and Boston of Santayana, Brooklyn and São Paulo are distinct, and cultural opposites. Thank you, dear friend, for explaining why there were no accents on your words. Imagine, at this time of multicultural cities and countries, a writing program leaving out a descriptive and important part of a language that marks its personality! A country mouse, eh? I guess we are city mice, then. Fortunately, in Brooklyn, we are always taking off for New England or to bike somewhere. In São Paulo, friends and family have beach and mountain second homes, and now our niece inherited some sugar cane and a simple, lazily comfortable farmhouse nearby. From our coffee-plantation-owning aunt and uncle, we also own sugar cane, quite far from the throbbing shores of this São Paulo megacity. The vast, green open-wide spaces renew our souls, as does the contact with the managers and workers who care so well for the land. Lucky us!

P. J. Grath said...

Jeanie, this very morning (on the drive from Dos Cabezas to Willcox) I realized I had perhaps overemphasized my country mouse persona. After all, there is Paris! So while we were traversing the range and driving along the playa, I thought of how at-home David and I both feel in Paris, France. A far cry from country, but plenty of country people living there who have adopted the city as their second home.

Jeanie Furlan said...

Pamela! I didn’t know that you and David have been to Paris together. Of course, he would love it there; he is an Artist, after all, and what is that city about except art and museums. Then, there is your deep understanding of life in that spectacular city. So, yes, I do see that you two are .....hybrids....seeing the beauty of the country, and appreciating all that is beautiful in a spohisticated city of the world. Plus, I so admire your knowledge and ability in the French language. Pas de probleme, for you!

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