Maps of Home in Foreign Places
Many things pass through ones mind when going back through old cities. Distant memories walled into the buildings and streets feel as alive as they did when they were first pressed. Toulouse, for me, is one such place that has an almost stubborn steadfastness to its original version in my memories. Walking through la ville rose is like that old Ah-Ha video, “Take on Me,” where the man passes from reality into the drawing/animation. Unlike looking through old photos this last trip was akin to living in them. Pictures in motion from before, and I am the motion.
It does not seem fair to say that the city, and the people I associate with it, have not changed. They do. There is always something new to learn from Toulouse and her Toulousians. At the same time, it has the instant effect of making me feel as I did all those years ago: a bit lost, wanderous/wondrous, charmed, and relaxed. Ratatouille and canard, Place du Capitol, and la Garonne. The charm of that place, this sentiment, is that it makes life simpler; makes me strip down the layers that have built up for clarity, complication, and progress in my life, and makes me take note of the very specific and bare necessities that make me feel this elusive feeling of ‘happiness.’
The city gives me pause. Pause enough. I do not want to stay, but it is a refreshing burst of nostalgia and presence that her bricks and gardens contain. Walking along the Canal du Midi, le Jardin des Plants, old crypts under the city, the comfort of the Portuguese word saudade comes to mind (perhaps more specifically saudade de terre is more accurate here). Longing for something one cannot have or is separated from or never had. Potent in its ability to move us, to make waves.
Toulouse moves me, eases me to sleep. It comforts me like an old home movie: silly, entertaining, engulfing at first, but ultimately lulls me into a restorative slumber. A few days every once in a while, a treatment of sorts, restores me unlike any other place. I feel human-ed in her environs, more human, more real in her dreams-like state. Safeguarding old relics of my life, in case I get lost in the chaos of ‘living,’ she keeps a part of me safe from myself. The city is a treasure chest of old burdens and good memories that allow me to live fuller and happier after every visit.