An American's European Sentimentality
I remember the first time I returned home after a five-month stint in France. I had grown very comfortable in my skin, figuratively and literally, having adopted the habit of attending to household business in nothing but panties. Breakfast was cooked in the (near) buff, emails answered with the itty-bitty-titty-committee out in full force, daily stretching completed in the exclusive company of Victoria's Secret and my yoga mat. After a few weeks of tight-lipped tolerance from my mother, she finally spat at me "Put some clothes on! This isn't France." Regrettably, non, it was not.
For as long as I remember, I had this nagging desire to live in Europe. I wouldn't say it stemmed from any kind of early-onset wanderlust, but rather, an innate sentimentality that played like a Before Sunrise loop in my conscience. From early, I knew realizing such romanticism in America was far-fetched, though fortunately, I traveled a lot as a child. The Caribbean was a favorited getaway for my parents but so too was the Mediterranean. By the age of ten, I had visited a third of the European Mediterranean countries and even toured Istanbul and Cairo. And when we weren't traveling, the foreign influence still poured in at home. My father, who spent his twenties living and working in France, kept Édith Piaf and Charles Aznavour on regular rotation. If it wasn't "La Foule" blasting through the home theatre speakers, then it was "La Bohème" and Johann Strauss was also typically on deck. It was all so melodramatic, but it matched my little bleeding-heart energy, so all was fine by me.
Fast forward some twenty-odd years, I've been in London now about two and half years and if we combine all my stints in France, a little over three years in Europe. Has my time abroad been all I dreamed it would be? Except for the absence of seasonal yachting in the Amalfi coast, for the most part, yes. I experience a certain restfulness abroad that I don't get in the United States. I do feel proud of the hustler's drive that my immigrant-built country is known for, but I can't say America embraces the necessary wellness that comes with rest. In America, we live to work. No matter the industry, so much value is placed on wealth, professional positioning, where you went to school, what assets you claim— the list goes on. And that's not to say you won't find similar value systems outside the U.S. But in countries where universal healthcare and government tuition caps protect citizens from falling hundreds of thousands into debt, an ethos honoring life's simpler pleasures, like family-time or the right to leisure, can properly take hold. Even in a bustling global capital like London, you'll be hard-pressed to find a pharmacy open past 6 p.m. on Sundays, if you find one open at all. Where Europeans choose to recognize well-being, America's frothing capitalist culture refuses to sleep.
And I mean, I'd like to think that we live in a different era from the 1920s-50s, when Black artists traded in the U.S. for Europe in droves. Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Eartha Kitt, and Sidney Bechet were just a few of many. But do we live in a different era? Anyone fortunate enough to have survived this past year (which may I remind you, has only been such an unprecedented year for social activism due to technology, the viral power of social media and a global pandemic making white people so bored that they started reading anti-racist books and marching in protests), can see that the state of affairs in 2020's America really isn't all that far off from where it was in 1920.
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
- James Baldwin
Now, that's not to deny the racism and vestiges of colonialism that profoundly impact Black communities in Europe. But there is something so grossly unique about America's race problem, that when I place an ocean between myself and the U.S., the levels of u-n-b-o-t-h-e-r-e-d that blossom within me are like nothing I've ever known. In London, I just do me, free and happy, without the constant threat of guns or an overly-militarized police force in my face. And I wish we we lived in a world where I didn't have to feel #blessed for this, but I do. And I am.
Though there's plenty more than "less guns" that attracts me to Europe. When I stumble upon a creative community in London, for instance, I find that the creative energy bubbles for creativity's sake, as opposed to being driven by hardcore competition or a cut-throat survival instinct that we see so much of in the U.S. Maybe that has something to do with the wide-reaching structures the UK has in place to buoy and develop artists: Help Musicians, The PRS Foundation, The MOBO Trust. Honestly, the support and funding offered by these organizations is beautiful. As beautiful as going on an afternoon stroll and being casually surrounded by grandAF architecture. As beautiful as a simple trip to the corner store turning into an intro language lesson in Punjabi, Italian, Polish, and Yoruba. Living abroad opens up a whole new dimension of inspiration and wonder for me. So until Akon's Wakanda is prepared to receive my visa application (who's ready?!), I fully intend to maintain my good-standing status with these French and British immigration offices.
Have you ever considered venturing somewhere new to create home? If so, what's stopping you?
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Aquarius Rising is an account of what love looks like
when you consciously choose it for yourself.
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