In London a young artist said to me, “How wonderful it must be for an American traveling in Europe the first time; you can never be a part of it, so none of the pain is yours, you will never have to endure it — yes, for you there is only the beauty.”
Not understanding what he meant, I resented this; but later, after some months in France and Italy, I saw that he was right: I was not a part of Europe, I never would be. Safe, I could leave when I wanted to, and for me there was only the honeyed, hallowed air of beauty. But it was not so wonderful as the young man had imagined: it was desperate to feel that one could never be a part of moments so moving, that always one would be isolated from this landscape and these people; and then gradually I realized I did not have to be a part of it: rather, it could be a part of me. The sudden garden, opera night, wild children snatching flowers and running up a darkening street, a wreath for the dead and nuns in noon light, music from the piazza, a Paris pianola and fireworks on La Grande Nuit, the heart-shaking surprise of mountain visions and water views (lakes like green wine in the chalice of volcanoes, the Mediterranean flickering at the bottoms of cliffs), forsaken far-off towers falling in twilight and candles igniting the jeweled corpse of St. Zeno of Verona — all a part of me, elements for the making of my own perspective.
— Truman Capote, 1948
Blogging will be light today. I am preparing to leave for Paris on Friday with my niece Hannah, and have to finish the penultimate chapter of my memoir about my sister today. The final chapter, about this trip to Paris with her daughter, will be written when I return. And then we have two months of revisions before final draft is due. It has been an exhausting three months, writing this book while maintaining the blog at full strength, but it has also been pretty exhilarating. I’ve learned so, so much about my sister, and even a few surprising things about myself. But given the intensity at which I’ve been writing — a thousand words a day, every day, for three months — I really need this Paris break.
I wanted to put this Capote quote out for your consideration and commentary. It’s one of my favorites, and is going to guide what I hope to say to Hannah on our trip, as we talk about what it means to leave home and go into the world — and to return. I would like to ask you to reflect in the comboxes on places you’ve visited, or even lived for a time, that helped make your own perspective, and how they did so. I will come back here this afternoon and share my thoughts on how two places — Europe, generally, and New York City — changed me forever in this way. Meanwhile, let’s hear from you.