Saturday, May 23, 2009

miami orange, naples blue

I did it again. Ughghghg. Well bleh. What I meant to write was:

The thing I remember most was that book I couldn't put down. We the Living, and even if you're not an Ayn Rand fan (or if you think she's a crazy person), the book is wonderful--all of her stories are kind of the same thing, so if you had to read just one. Anyway, I couldn't stop reading it. It had been sitting next to my bed for about three months and I'd started it but only got about forty pages in before I just sort of quit reading it. But I took it with me, just in case. And around night four of this trip I was one hundred pages from the end and everything in it was going crazy and we were going all around Naples or Miami doing things but I'd get out of the back of the truck still reading it. We went to a beach to take pictures of the sun going down and it was a dark sunset, I remember, really dark orange, everything the sort of color that things turn around a campfire. And I noticed it getting darker, but barely, and I don't think I realized at all when the orange turned into streetlight orange, camera flashes headlights because we were driving down the road and I was trying to hold the sentence I was on in this orange line of light as it slid away, following it across the sleeping as the cars passed. And then I was I crying, quiet, not even sniffling, mouth hung open and face burning and my friend noticed and laughed, and then we were at Dairy Queen sitting at a table outside. My ice cream was melting too fast and I couldn't keep up with it--imagine, ice cream melting outside in December? But then I finished the book, and the ice cream was all over my face and left hand and wrist, mouth probably still hung open. And the light from the store was bright like a warehouse or a stadium, really white, like when you know you're outside but it feels like inside and I sort of wish now that it had been dark and orange, but then that's how it went.

Amy and I talked a lot on that trip. She was the friend, my neighbor, who invited me. Crazy Amy--she's always Crazy Amy in my stories. We talked about boys and family, mostly. She told me about music, I being a woefully uncultured child. Who's Guns N' Roses? And then her mom's boyfriend told me about cleaning the Glock he kept by his pillow in the tent.

But Miami! We were driving there during the day and it was so bright. We went on this tour to see... well I don't remember, now, there were a few small islands and houses with famous people, same thing I think I flew over on the way to Colombia. And I'd borrowed a skirt from her, this short black thing with studs and some shirt that didn't really match and my hair was dark enough that I looked as goth as she was without trying, but it was in sixty two degrees outside and I could think of nothing better to wear. So we were on the tour and I was freezing with the wind blowing off the water but there was a family a few seats up speaking Italian and a father and son in front of me speaking something like Dutch, but I never did know for sure.

And then back in Naples at night, we'd made friends in the hot tub. All the European kids on holiday--all of them speaking English with us--and we just sat around and talked. There was a Jamaican talking about soccer--at first I couldn't tell what on earth he was saying. Sow-kah? And so I repeated it that way, what does that word mean? And everyone laughed and later the three French boys, all with my exact coloring, they could have been my brothers. But then Cote is a French name, I told myself, because that's all I knew then. They were speaking so quickly and I was supposed to start French the next semester and I could say a few words an exchange student had taught me how to say, and then suddenly one of the boys was stopping mid-sentence, does she speak French? Of course not. Sigh of relief.

Who knew we might have been out of place, me with my borrowed bathing suit and the hole in it, Crazy Amy with the underside of her hair shaved. Her mom shouting shut the hell up to who knows from inside the tent, and the international kids probably couldn't have understood it anyway, southern American English a whole adventure unto itself in pronunciation. At any rate, none of that ever occured to me. I just kept listening to the French. To this one little German boy who would speak German with his father, French with the others, and then slow, broken English with us. I'd never experienced anything remotely international, apart from exchange students and my cousin's stories about Russia. And Naples, Miami, these places were international to me.

When we walked around in Miami we stopped at a taco stand and I watched the man taking our order write it down in Spanish as he spoke to us in perfect English. I couldn't understand how that worked at all. And then later we were walking down the street and I don't remember what stopped me but I was looking at something written in Sharpie on the wall of a building and there was Spanish and English and some man came up to me and was suddenly speaking to me in Spanish. And then when I gave him a sort of apologetic look he was surprised a little. You don't speak Spanish? I wished I did, along with French and everything else.

Miami was bright colors. I didn't know the difference between a palm tree and a coconut tree. I thought they were the same thing. It was buildings with orange walls and red terracotta roofs, if I remember. And the lights of some part of the city at night, how they looked over the water from a mall we were in. I don't remember the specifics. I remember the colors and the languages, and the very beginnings of some mess of questions of identity, translated through what am I? Ethnically, I mean. In terms of heritage. All these comments, particularly now, about how I've got a European look about me, and I can see them taking root in Miami and Naples five years ago. I'd never seen anything like those places, both at an entirely different pace and lighting and sound than anything else, even the temperature, so much more mild than North Carolina winter, throwing me.

There went that footing, but it's funny to see the way I still come back to it. These things I care about, am interested in--are they how I am, or are they Florida still under my skin. Would I have cared if someone thought I was Hispanic--more European than indigenous of course--in an airport in Miami this summer if someone else hadn't thought the same thing when I was fifteen? Would I let them think that? It's a whole tangle of things, and I still haven't gotten it figured out.

But there's still that hook in me, invisible line drawing back toward fiesta colors and blue sky, blue tent, blue hot tob, French and Spanish and all the other languages colors themselves. Miami orange, Naples blue. Suddenly not black and white at all.


  1. Another one! I'm so happy! But you're making me miss Florida so much, even though I grew up hours away from the southern part of the state. Ah.

  2. =) And yeah, I remember you telling us you'd gone to school in Florida but I was always confused about where you were from, originally. I'd be like, Florida--wait--West Virginia--wait--

    And yes, yes, this is exactly why I [try to] keep myself from writing a lot about Colombia because I'm way too sentimental and it only makes me miss it that much more. Although I will admit that between your posts about Congo and The Poisonwood Bible (just finished reading it about a week ago) and (oh gosh this is embarrassing) an ER episode that took place outside of Kisangani, I've been finding myself reading Wikpedia articles and other things which is usually my first sign of trouble.. you think you'll ever go back?

  3. I know--I get confused myself. It's awkward to answer the question of where I'm from because I was born in WV but only lived there my first four years. The rest was Florida. So, I suppose I'm more FL than I ever was WV, but I still feel so connected to that place. The grandparents I've lost are buried there, my cousins are still there, and on and on. It was only after I left Florida that I came to realize how much a part of me it was. So, now I have both, which is great but confusing as well.

    I know what you mean. It always starts with poking around online, doesn't it? :) Looking at pictures, at plane fares, at hotels... I do hope I'll go back. I know I romanticize it in a lot of ways. I know it was hard and dirty and difficult and we were all sick. But I still want to go back so badly. I just have to figure out how to pay for it...

  4. So, just to let you know, after reading this post I had to read We the Living. And I did. And it tore me apart, really. I kind of hated it at first, but I pushed on, because you wrote such lovely things about it, and because it's my friend Sabrina's favorite book, so I figured the two of you had to be on to something.

    Well, I was furious and nearly hysterical by the end, and it's been a long time since I was that into a book. I can't figure out whether to thank you for the recommendation or to be mad at you. (Oh, who am I kidding? Who could be mad at you?)

  5. yeah, it did similar things to me (although, having just read your blog, for different reasons--i'm praying for you guys if it means anything). i was really mad at the book, particularly after what happened with andrei. but then, like you said, i just kept hoping until the end. it's strange that i should love such a depressing book so much. and her philosophies, they make me want to shake her (ayn rand, i mean). i am glad you read it though, but i hope it wasn't too traumatizing.

  6. Yes, isn't that just it! How can I love this book so much? But it just happens. I can't make an ounce of sense when I try to talk about it. We need to do coffee. I'm such a delinquent when it comes to Facebook. I am going to write you back immediately.