Thursday, June 10, 2010
Posted by ML Awanohara
1) I'm remembering a particular Victorian house with thick and gnarled vines of wisteria framing its front door, in the town in East Anglia where I once lived. I became obsessed with this house and would often fantasize about living there and leading a storybook life. This fantasy never diminished, even when I learned that its real-life inhabitants were terribly unhappy (they were among the first couples amongst my set to divorce).
2) Some people have salad days, but I have wisteria days. This blog doesn't really need another metaphor, but there is something about the wisteria plant, its mixture of whimsy and hardiness (wisteria grows quickly and aggressively, living for up to 100 years), that suggests the kinds of qualities I had to draw on in the early stages of living abroad, so far away from my family and everything I'd known. Playful, curious, enthusiastic on the one hand, and full of fortitude and powers of endurance on the other.
3) Wisteria is quintessentially Victorian. I'm fascinated with Victorian times, which produced the metaphor of "seeing the elephant," around which this blog is built. It was the German Dr. Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold who brought the first wisteria and hydrangea plants to Europe from Japan. (He went to Japan in 1822 to gather information on that closed-off country.) Thanks to him, Victorians could adorn their houses with wisteria.
5) Memories of natural beauty help to counteract the sadness that I feel while being bombarded with images from the the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Is this what I came home for?
At the same time, I've been thinking that we world travelers are somewhat culpable in this disaster. Let's be honest: we have something in common with oil excavators. As recounted in a previous post, "seeing the elephant" was originally used by those who rushed to California in hopes of striking gold and getting rich quick. Oil, of course, is black gold.
While we may not literally seek gold or oil, we expat types tend to follow the money, going abroad to seek adventure and fortune, hopping on airplanes that leave a large carbon footprint without so much as batting an eye. We may not have chosen to live in the United States, but our actions, too, have played a part in driving the relentless demand for black gold--which fuels (quite literally) our adventures.
I am grateful to Matthew Rees for supplying a relatively recent photo of English wisteria.