Happy Labor Day, dear Reader. I know embarrassingly little about this North American holiday, distant and most disenfranchised relative of the redder and more international May Day, but have nevertheless enjoyed this year’s to the fullest. I’ve not partaken in any of the supposed Labor Day sales; I took a walk in the park, and am about to take another; the scent of my neighbors’ barbecues is beginning to fill the air, carried by the last few summery breezes. Aside from taking advantage of the holiday to write a true, un-premeditated Monday Musing, I also view today as my last day to really reflect on the past season before autumn sets in—which means my summer memories are in trouble, as I’ve far too many to process and absorb before midnight tonight.
Spontaneously writing “past season” brings to mind a revealing connotation I learned from a Sicilian friend and wordsmith once: the word Season, in Sicily, mentally capitalized and paired with its article as the Season, invariably means summer. Coming from central New York, this was a completely foreign concept for me, as there are (where I come from at least) four rather distinct seasons, each to be appreciated for its own different delights. I learned this new/old term one October afternoon a couple years ago, walking near Central Park. I was overjoyed by the crisp, golden autumn light, colored leaves cascading in the wind, and brisk air—all of which hinted at winter’s imminent arrival, bright blankets of silent snow, multiple layers of woolen clothing… in short, heaven. For the wordsmith of southern climes, on the other hand, that October day was supremely melancholic, and only presaged darker, colder, more melancholic days to come. After my last posting about having gone to look for America I was justly criticized for not being pointed enough about what I found. I still can’t come to concrete conclusions, but I can add a little to those incomplete thoughts.
First, to address whether Simon and Garfunkel had gone or come to look for America (or both, in alternation): I found 500-some google hits for the latter, 700-some for the former. Where to turn? To my parents, of course, who brought me that song in the first place. According to the original Bookends vinyl sleeve, the various refrains are:
And walked off / to look for America…
I’ve come to look for America…
They’ve all come / to look for America…
All come to look for America.
According to my diligent, data-collecting father, who’s seen Simon and Garfunkel in concert thrice (don’t worry dad, this doesn’t reveal your age, as they still tour occasionally!), there are “often minor changes and ad-libs in their performances, so they may have used both gone and come at different times. But the above has been verified against at least the Bookends recording.” So, we all win—now as in the seventies people are coming and going to look for America—and today I bet lots of them could use a real Labor Day much more than I.
Truth be told, when I was out in Michigan I didn’t really get to see as much of our famed (mal-famed?) Midwest as I’d hoped, as my TA tasks were lengthier and more laborious than I’d foreseen. But I can say, having been on the road abroad in the preceding weeks, I inevitably learn more about this country each time I leave it than when I’m here.
For instance, returning to that song, the bad fame hitchhiking and hitchhikers acquired here thanks to the eponymous film and for other reasons doesn’t plague the practice in many other countries. Almost all of my foreign-born friends have good hitchhiking/“auto-stop” stories, virtually none of their American counterparts have ever dared even give it a try. But perhaps I’m telling you things you already know.
People who’ve recently arrived in America bring with them some fine habits that have all but disappeared here; at the end of that art course Christin approached me with a stack of small envelopes in hand, out of which she pulled one with my name on it. Inside was a thank-you note of a caliber that can’t be replicated in any animated, jingle-enhanced e-card.
In London an archivist generously shared his time and expertise helping me find an audio recording that for copyright reasons couldn’t be shipped to me in New York. The freeholder (landlord) of the flat I stayed in came down to check on us two Americans in town for a brief stay. When we invited him down for an aperitif a couple days later, he arrived fresh in full pinstriped elegance straight from the solicitor’s office where he works, and gave us an enchanting hour or so of anecdotes from when he was reading law at Oxford decades ago, suggesting countless stories and places I should look into when I went there for the August conference.
In Sisteron, Haute-Provence, at my friends’ wedding, I saw the pluses of America in their exported versions. The groom, who I’d originally met in London but comes from a Jewish family in Colorado and is now at MIT, was learning both French and Italian so as to better communicate with the bride, a French native who studied in Rome and New York before leaving to work in London and later Dubai. Their ceremony was a delightful hybrid of the sort we’re accustomed to here, but I’d bet those medieval cathedral walls had never before hosted anything of the sort.
In Milan I learned that the Anglo-American obsession with work isn’t uniquely American—denizens of Italy’s fashion, design, and industrial capital work very hard to afford their luxuries.
In Palermo, noticing a trilingual street sign in Italian, Arabic, and Hebrew, I saw that the diversity we purport to foster in this country has existed on that island—strategically set between Italy, North Africa, Greece, southern Spain, and by extension the Bronx, Brooklyn, and basically everywhere—for centuries.
In Rome I saw that the basalt paving stones cut by foreign slave labor and laid according to ancient emperors’ expansive aspirations took a lot longer to wear down—and will undoubtedly outlast—the BQE and most of our illustrious interstates. But I suppose the going was slower back then in all respects.
In Oxford I learned that even if the floodwaters of the Thames had risen high enough to flow through the Bodleian and the Ashmolean, which they didn’t, those foundations are so solidly built that any such emergency would merely require temporarily moving some priceless treasures to higher floors and waiting for the old stones to dry back out afterward.
In Saugatuck I learned that even lagoon-bound snapping turtles will grow fat if you feed them traditional American fare on a daily basis.
My sincerest apologies to anyone who sought an in-depth analysis of anything here today, it’s Monday and in good end-of-summer mode my musings are light. I’m off for my evening stroll, bid you a nice post–Labor Day night, and ask that you take your time returning to the daily grind, however figurative it might be, tomorrow and the next day and the next….