Cities, and more cities;

I have memories of cities like memories of love

What is there to say?

Sometimes it comes to me

At night, I dream that I am here or there…

-Valery Larband

Paris 2011

“It’s a classic fear,” Thomas says “I don’t want to fall in love. We have difficulty with having long lasting romantic relationships,”

“How long is a long lasting relationship?” Jack asks

“I’m talking 6 months, 2, 3 years…the ability to think ahead…” Thomas responds

“Do you know the movie L’Amour de 3 Ans?” Jack asks

“No,”

“Oh? Well, that’s a piece of French culture for you.”

“Okay, I’m going to have to rent that,” Renata says

“I do have a lot of ex diplomat friends who…however long their parents stayed somewhere that’s how long their relationships last. I have a friend, she is the 3 year girl. Her relationships only last that long,”

Everyone laughs

“No but it’s scary! It’s ridiculous. She actually had a guy who proposed marriage twice and both times she said no because she could not…uh…anticipate…she’ll find some defect and she’ll just leave the guy. She doesn’t even realize it. If I tell her she’ll just dismiss you completely.”

“I never had a problem with commitment,” Violet says as if it’s only dawning on her. “I would even say that people found me too intense and so backed off. Not committing has been the hardest part of my childhood. I wasn’t made for it. I don’t think humans are, we’re not wired for it,”

“My country, Venezuela, went haywire at the same time as my parents decided to split up. They didn’t realize how to manage it so I was basically supporting my parents. They didn’t realize that the only thing I had was a family unit so for me it was more important than ever for them, for us, to stay together. There’s a lot of things they did not do so I think if you’re a responsible parent the upbringing can be a very positive thing. All the crazy cases, the complete failures are usually the ones where the parent did not realize what the kid was going through and that is so important,”

“And there is such an irony there,” Violet says

Ana understands straight away.

“A complete irony,”

“What do you mean?” the others ask

“Well, in my case UN workers, they spend all their time caring for other people but charity never begins at home,” Violet says

“My mother once insulted me, calling me apatride,

“What does it mean?” Violet asks

“Stateless, and I actually feel that way more than anything else. And she was…is a diplomat and in her line of work it’s really bad to be that way. As you say UN workers, they do everything possible to help people out of such states but…”she shrugs again

“Why would a mother say such a thing to their child?”

“I don’t know. I remember thinking it was like she was telling me I had black hair. I know! I know I’m apatride!”

“I think I have a very different opinion to most people here,” Phi says, who had been listening closely all along. “I spent nearly 10 years in Mauritania and what was very strange for me is that I saw a lot of people moving in and out of the country and I was losing friends and I couldn’t get hold of people. The only thing I could get hold of was my family and we spent a lot of time together, I had 3 siblings. That counts for a lot. I lost people but I always had my brothers and sisters and I would spend a lot of time with them. But then my parents decided that we all had to do high school back in France but they would still remain in Africa  and so they sent us there one after the other. So, we had to start building something else. Okay, you know your brother or sister is still there but you don’t see them for 6 months to a year. I wouldn’t see my sisters for all that time,”

“The only thing I’d say… is it good to only have your family? And then have that as well slowly splinter?” Violet says

“You are all too young for me to share my age,” Jack says, smiling, ” but transitioning to adulthood was the biggest blow. For me it came together with repatriation, as for many of us, so I’m still struggling to make out what was transition to adulthood and what belonged to the cultural and climate shock. More generally, my feeling about becoming an adult is one of going downhill. I used to live in great places, go swimming in Lake Tanganiyika on weekends, watch the hippos from the window of the restaurant we used to have lunch at on Sundays just by the lake, I had the green hills of Africa, a ceiling of stars after the sun had set over the mountains of Zaïre… I had my car, I mean, my Mom’s car, but since I had passed my licence she hardly ever drove it, I had lots of friends, and when we would get together we looked like a Benetton advertisement : we were French, German, Greek, Japanese, Haitian, American, Canadian, Chilean, Belgian, lots of children from “interracial” couples. I still have trouble using this word, I basically discovered the term when I moved to Europe… I could go on much longer about this. So that was my former life, and all of a sudden, here I was in cold and unfriendly Europe, and I was one student among so many others. No car, the money I had in my pocket did no longer represent several months of a local worker’s salary, and above all, it was cold, so, soooooo cold. I spent my first winter running from one heated place to another. As Violet, all of my friends were international students, I didn’t have much in common with the French. Yes, that’s what the transition to adulthood felt like : decline. I used to have a great life, and suddenly I had a shitty life. Sometimes, when I’m stuck in traffic, I still wonder how the hell I ended up here. The scooter, and then the motorbike somehow were a great step in my “reconquista” of a decent life. Having no boss other than my own clients was also a big one. Looks like I’m progressing towards adulthood, eventually, at age 41. There, I said it!”

Note: This is actual transcription from a meeting I had with mostly French citizens who had grown up like me internationally. They were the children of diplomats, businessmen, scientists and civil engineers. I decided not to use it for my novel but as I was editing it I felt compelled to share their voices. 

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