Progym: Encomium, Ekphrasis
When I was 2 years old, my parents moved me from southern California, where I was born, to New Orleans. They had visited once and fell in love with the city. They had no connections and no plan. All they knew was that they had grown to hate how vapid orange county was.
But in a place I’m just visiting—in the local paintings you see all over Bali, it’s impossible to see where the trees end and the humans begin—I can’t make out where the boundaries are demarcated.
Pico Iyer puts into words a thought I’ve had about New Orleans ever since I was a kid. There’s an indescribable aura around people who are from there. You get the sense that most people never leave, and they don’t. If they do you can always count on them to come back. Only slightly more than 20% of Louisianans even have passports. You can see the roots that people have in New Orleans than tether them to the city. They casually and comfortably move without a worry of making it anywhere on time. Honking is forbidden and work ends at 2pm on Fridays. Time for the party to start.
I have no memories of living in California. I’m from New Orleans. I call it home. I can pass as a native – well, too – but I’ve always had a sense that I’m a foreigner and I’m pretty sure I’m right. I have a small family and at home that makes me an outlier. I don’t have cousins I see every day. I don’t have a last name that ends in -eaux. But I say yes ma’am and I can make a roux.
I feel lucky to be a foreigner because, like Pico Iyer, my foreignness, in whatever amount it exists, allows my home to “unsettle and surprise me, forever.”