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Our Discontented Bones

26 February 2007
Today the Miami sun is a hungover showgirl, leaving pink and purple smears on her pillow-clouds. She washes with lazy rain. It drips on Mediterranean collonades and quirky Arabian facades: memories ancient Persia by way of Spain. It drizzles into your Calle Ocho cafe con leche. It puddles the driveways of a hundred thousand SUVs and a dozen kinds of palm trees -- all of them, like most of us, recent imports.

The lure of Miami is how it embraces the international and mocks the cosmopolitan. Another block is another dimesion: Little Haiti, Little Havana, pockets of Europe and Argentina and Hong Kong, people trading driving, praying, building, teeming in and out of one of the Grand Caravanserais of the New World.

On occasion some 4th-generation cracker will read too much into my complexion. He will confide the unmoored feeling that comes every time he sees a billboard written in another language. I will drop into an accent that is comfortable to my tounge yet alien to my ears. It's an unconcious habit. I will share with him in the Brotherhood of Expatriates: a club with no rites or roster but which calls itself into session wherever beleaguered men find the familiar in a strange place. We will sit and sip and I will listen to how is it's a shame to have to taste the Brotherhood while on our native soil.

The first time it happened I threw the ignorant prick out of my house. But that was during the golden time between callow youth and heavy drinking, before I realized that the unmoored feeling was with me always.

People of recently mixed heritage have no homeland in this sense: there is no place, however distant in space and time, peopled with those who share every one of your values. Is the answer a permanent Wanderjahr?

Quoth Nathaniel Hawthorne, a man who got paid by the comma:

"...the years, after all, have a kind of emptiness, when we spend too many of them on a foreign shore. We defer the reality of life, in such cases, until a future moment, when we shall again breathe our native air; but, by and by, there are no future moments; or, if we do return, we find that the native air has lost its invigorating quality, and that life has shifted its reality to the spot where we have deemed ourselves only temporary residents. Thus, between two countries, we have none at all, or only that little space of either, in which we finally lay down our discontented bones."

I didn't come to love this place until I had left, seen what was around, and came back. I needed distance to appreciate this mad soup that seems to be self-organizing into a cultural capital.