No, I’m not going to talk about the department. Yes, I remember how panties in bunch people got because they thought “Homeland”had Nazi connotations.
Of course we’re talking about people who think the seal of the speaker of the house is a Nazi symbol, at least when the speaker is a Republican, and who try to explain away that they didn’t jump all over little Nancy Of The Gavel Walk because “the way Paul Ryan draws it it’s flatter and it looks more Nazi.” You heard it here first. Only art teachers know Nazis. Considering how many of those idiots were my esteemed colleagues, our field must be in way more trouble than I thought. If that wasn’t the classic “roll over and die” maneuver, I don’t know what was.
Leaving aside all that nonsense, there really isn’t a better way to express the concept, or at least not one my only-one-cup-of tea brain can figure out. (I’m trying to change to tea because coffee for me — no matter what my boss at insty thinks! — requires sweetener and I’m trying to cut down on sweetener because it still gets insulin response.) At any rate for the Germans it was Fatherland, which is closer to the word Patria I grew up with.
When I was eight years old, I knew when I grew up I was going to be a writer and live in Denver. So far so good, though it took twenty years to make it the 100 miles from the Springs.
I was having breakfast this morning, looking out the sunroom windows as the city lights in the distance flickered off, and the sun painted the sky a delicate pink, and an overwhelming sense of being home came over me.
In my young days I liked traveling. I’m getting settled in my old age, and part of the reason the last two years were so difficult is that I like my comforts. I like my breakfast routine: feed the cats, boil the eggs, and usually make the coffee. We’ll see how tea works. Even when I drank mostly tea I tended to drink coffee in the final push of a book, when I was working sixteen hour days.
Okay — I’m obviously more scattered with tea — back to the subject.
I loved the village when I was little. Not just “I love living here” — in fact I often didn’t — but I loved the smell in the air, the quality of the light on certain days. I loved the smell of the vineyards when they ripened. I loved fireflies in summer evenings. I loved the rhythm of the seasons. And some how it was all tied up with grandma and my dad. Of course I loved them and they loved the place passionately. (Weirdly, my brother, who was less attached, never left because he can’t bear to.)
I’ve talked before about the time I spent after I moved to the US, missing Portugal: the village, my regular haunts in Porto, the markets, knowing where to find things.
When I go back all that is gone. The village has become a dormitory community for Porto, thanks to the highway and widespread car ownership. The funny thing is that they still call it rural. Let’s put it this way, though there are still some fields under cultivation, the prevalent high rises and malls make it about as rural as downtown Colorado Springs and less rural than Aurora — I remember shopping for apartments with Robert before he started medschool, and we’d take a wrong turn and suddenly there were fields and cows — or in American terms, not rural at all. They’ve paved over the pond where bamboo grew, and where dad used to walk me to watch fireflies and make flutes. They’ve paved over where we fed the ants. The woods are reduced to tiny squares. And masses of “Strangers” came in, so it’s rare to see a face I recognize. Most of the people who moved in don’t even realize I exist. They think my mom, like her sister in law, had only one son.
I’m not complaining. It’s not my right to complain. I lived there a shorter time than I’ve now lived in Colorado, and that’s a fraction of the time I’ve been in the US. No. I daresay even the stack a prol apartments are better places to live than the low, conjoined little houses most people lived in. Apartments have toilets. And running hot and cold water.
And I’m not complaining that Porto has become a touristic Mecca, which, considering it has the general climate and look of London I’m sure is for the history and the monuments, or perhaps because now people are painting the houses in primary colors (never when I was little) and Northern Europeans think it’s a poor-man’s Caribbean. Though I’d hazard it’s mostly the wine.
My kids loved Porto, and they’d have hated it as it was when I loved it: grimy, gritty, workaday, with nothing for tourists, the sort of place that — but for a lack of diners — would have made a great setting for a noir movie. (It still rains more of less all the time, except at the height of summer, a dispiriting, weepy drizzle.)
And if you read the paragraph above you’ll find I loved it. I loved it because, coming from the village, it meant freedom. No one watched your every movement in Porto. Oh, sure, crazy men might follow you on the street calling you names, but at least you didn’t have the village gossips concoct fantastic tales about your secret love affair just because you felt like wearing a more daring shade of lipstick. It also meant books. It meant at least four bookstores, within easy distance of the train station, and later a lot more, as I discovered the alfarrabios, the used book stores. Used bookstores doesn’t describe it, or not precisely. There is a difference between used bookstores in the US — stores in the US in general — and alfarrabios, which were often the two bottom floors of a family home, so there was no urgency in making every inch pay. So books came in, got put somewhere, generations changed. They never even bothered changing the prices. Some of my early in-English reading happened because I found a nook at the back of an alfarrabio (from the fact that rag is farrapo, I wonder if the word is arab for rag cellar, and the book thing just accrued to the profession as books came in) where they had early twentieth century, leather bound English language books. I read all of H. G. Wells that way. (And most of Twain. And Dickens, though I don’t remember Dickens because I never liked him. And other writers I don’t remember. I wonder what English-speaking lost soul sold them to the store in the first place) And now I wonder what the heck happened to those books, as I suspect they were first editions. I suspect I lent them out and lost them.
And speaking of feelings of home and nostalgia, I still get mushy at the memory of that nook, which even at early twentieth century prices took me years to explore and buy out. I’d go in and sit on the floor, and look through the books to decide what to buy. The ceiling was too low for me to stand up, but at the end of the little nook there was a grime-encrusted dormer window, which filtered the light in all yellow and hazy.
Oh, and Portugal had Chinese restaurants, and museums, and movie theaters, things I still like in a cityy. No, not sure why, it’s just who I am.
Most of the alfarrabios have closed, possibly because real estate is at a premium in the far more prosperous cities, and these bookstores were like the ones Pratchett describes, where the owner wears carpet sleepers and reacts to your trying to buy his book like you’re kidnapping his child.
I still have some of those feelings of “home” for specific places in Portugal — it just so happens those places don’t exist anymore, nor the people who made those places special — absent the charming idea that heaven stores all the dearest places of the heart, I’ll never see them again.
How did this extend to “homeland” To patriotism?
I tried. I tried really hard. I even managed to convince my sister in law, who of course, hadn’t known me from childhood.
Look, if you had stacked places “Portugal or Spain?” even now I’d say Portugal, only because Spain is that horrible mix of the familiar and the “what the heck?” and even if Portugal has become more so, the past 30 years, it’s not that bad.
But there was never a song in my heart when I referred to myself as “Portuguese”: the best way I can explain it is to say it was like my birth name. I hated being called by my birth name, and my closest friends had a dozen nicknames for me. It wasn’t so much that I hated the name. It’s an okay name and fine for everyone else, but it didn’t “fit”. I felt like I was impersonating someone of that name, and there was an automatic cringe-and-duck which I don’t feel the slightest need to do when anyone calls me now.
The same way, referring to myself as Portuguese was wrong. I found out in my teens, when I started visiting friends for long periods of time, that my family REALLY wasn’t that Portuguese. Not noticeably. Or at least not normal Portuguese. Dad loves the country, but it’s an intellectual love. He loves the history of the country. He can and does describe medieval battles vividly and poetically when we visit the sites (including to my sons, as I’m struggling to translate that fast.) He does know the kings and queens of the past, as though he’d been their elementary school friend. And dad loves the village. Because he was there for the transformation, he doesn’t realize, I think, how little of the village I knew is left. Or if he does, by the time I was born it had so changed from his village, that it doesn’t matter. He talks of the place where he and his friends played a prank, and in his eyes — like a man long-married seeing his wife as she was when he met her — it’s the same place.
But my family doesn’t behave like other Portuguese families, and I can’t even tell you why. The day to day is different. At Liberty con, I complained of my shoes pinching and an author of Portuguese ancestry said her grandmother would have told her it was a punishment for the sin of vanity.
My family lacked that all pervasive Catholicism, that view of “you deserve punishment for looking good” and the most my family would have said would be “didn’t they have the shoes in your size?” (Which was a common problem, when I was young.) My family didn’t eat the same foods, or have the same manners, or… It was almost like I’d been raised in a foreign enclave in the middle of Portuguese society. Those early forays into visiting friends made me feel even more alien than I normally did. All the more so because I couldn’t betray ignorance of customs or behavior, and had to pick up and play along as best I could. After all, I was a native. (Since I’m as good at picking up on hints as most of you, you picture the disaster.)
Much as I loved the history dad told, I always felt like a little alien. Then I took to English history. At some point, on this blog, someone berated me for not writing more books based on Portuguese history. There’s tons of reasons for that, including that the audience would not have any resonance with Portuguese history, so it would take a lot more work to make it meaningful. I intend to borrow some things — most of them royal life episodes — for a space opera series, eventually, but that’s because I can give them their own background and meaning then. What he was missing was that beyond all that, I do love English History and started learning it at an early age, and reading it for fun.
There will always be a vaguely anglophile part of me.
In my teens I fell in love with America. It was an intellectual love. I loved the principles and the ideas of the founding. I loved that America comes as close to a classless society as humans ever have.
Note this was long before my mind decided I was going to live in Denver and be a writer, and I knew about as much about Denver as I did about being a writer: really, nothing but I’d seen on TV and you know how accurate that is. And no, to this day still I can’t answer you “why Denver?”
Most Portuguese — I was explaining this yesterday to a friend, trying to get across why Deportugal is an unlikely thing, and why Portugal will cling to the shards of the US as long as they can — love Portugal on the “home” level. They love the landscapes, the customs, the language, those traditions I never fully shared. They are however at best ambivalent on the “homeland” the more abstract level. They will get crazy in love with Portugal when supporting it in a soccer match, for instance, and that’s about the only time you’ll see anyone flying the flag. My mom was shocked when she visited (in July) that almost every home flew the American flag. In Portugal there are various jokes made about the flag, and the national hymn. Part of this is that they were changed so often in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Part of it is that patriotism is not only not pushed in the schools, but is considered vaguely shameful (yes, they’re trying to do the same here.) The twentieth century international socialists diagnosed “nationalism” as the cause of Nazi atrocities because they couldn’t face that SOCIALISM was the actual problem (it can kill you fast, it can kill you slow, it can kill you hard or it can kill you softly, but in the end socialism, like its communist cousin, will kill you. It’s just it’s slow in most places, and people don’t notice.) So patriotism was treated as a bad thing. Even though most Portuguese loved living in Portugal day to day, they had no intellectual affection for the notion of the country. It’s a bad way to live. The EU relieved this psychic tension by giving most of them the chance to immigrate without immigrating. They were now allowed to consider themselves “citizens of Europe” while still loving their little corner of it fiercely.
I understand it, because my love for the US started with only the intellectual level. Oh, it was strong. I think I kissed the gentleman who first looked at my green card and said “welcome home.” I’m sure I hugged him. I remember his shocked face. And I always kiss the ground when returning from abroad, a ceremony I taught my kids, because ritual is important.
But for years, the slant of the light was wrong. The feel of the air was wrong. The morning sounds were wrong.
I don’t know when that changed. After I left the Carolinas for sure. And yeah, part of it is that the rocky terrain and the sparse pines look more like the area around the village when I was little, though the village was (you might have got that feeling) way more moist than the high desert. And way less mountainous..
But casual poking around at my ancestry revealed people from so many different places (the North of Portugal was a sort of dumping ground for English ne’er do wells and troublemakers — before England had colonies for that purpose — and the napoleonic wars left enough French and English blood strewn about to considerably confuse things. That’s without counting imports from the PORTUGUESE colonies.) that I really don’t see a link between land and blood, or between “my ancestors lived in this kind of climate, it’s the right climate for me.” In fact, all of Portugal was characterized by the Germans as “mud people” since Portuguese genetics were a mess (Why, thank you. Hybrid vigor, sonny! Also, all people are a mix from Ur of the Chaldeans onward, mostly due to “humans will sleep with anything.” Apparently even hominids, given recent findings. If you think otherwise, your knowledge of history is funny. Also deficient. [And no, the DNA tests aren’t very exact. They’re, as older son, the one who knows human biology puts it “mostly bogus.” He could probably explain why to you. He’s explained it to me, but my eyes glazed over.)
No, I’ve found that loving where you live is more a matter of habituation and perhaps of individual taste. I loved Denver the first time I saw it. It survived even the winters (and I hate cold.) Why? I don’t know. Why do you love certain kinds of features and not others? Unless you were raised in a very insular place it’s not “Because they’re like the faces I know.” There is more to it. I loved redheads before I knew they existed. that is, the first one I met rendered me speechless and I followed the poor guy around like a lost puppy, which considering I was twelve and he mid-twenties must have been a great annoyance. My kids’ tastes in girls are almost opposite. Why do they like what they do? Who knows?
In the same way I liked Denver on sight. I liked the light and the air, the noises of the city. I like Colfax before it was safe. I liked the way the city sprawls, more horizontal than vertical, and the open feel of it. Who knows why?
I can tell you why I love America: the principles of the founding, the constitution, our struggle to bring into being something that has never existed before — a society where all are equal before the law. (I’m not mad crazy about the push-pull when one side insists on equality of outcome, but humans aren’t perfect and I suspect it’s inevitable.)
I can’t tell you why I love my corner of it. I just know I do. Having breakfast in the sun room early morning, with the park and the trees to my right, and the lights of Denver slowly fading in front of me, eclipsed by the rising sun, is a feeling of … being home.
I’ve always loved the “land” part, the principles, and even the boisterous can-do of the nation, the way we don’t take no (or sometimes even yes) for an answer. I loved it before I came here.
I’ve loved Colorado since I first saw it, which is the reason we haven’t moved even as Californians moved in and messed up our polity.
In this house, I feel like I have the best of Colorado, and the two unite into a feeling of “just right.”
It’s good to be home. This home, in particular, but the state and the country too. It’s good to love my homeland, and to feel absolutely no compunction to cotton to people who think that patriotism is a bad word.
I raise my cup of tea to my homeland, and hope the disease of international socialism that invaded the weakened mechanisms of Western Civilization post WWI can be flushed from the system, before it destroys us all.
Let’s work to make it so.