I 've just returned to Da Nang following a month in the American Midwest where I attended the 2007 FGC Quaker Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin, as well as three weeks of workshops at the Twenty-First Annual Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City, Iowa. What follows are a few essays that I wrote during that wonderful month of July 2007.
I’ve come home to Iowa City. The little restaurants peppering the streets serve all my favorite foods, prepared just the way I like them. The quirky gift shops lining each block of the downtown commercial district offer items that suit my taste and my sense of humor to a tee. I can visualize my father walking home along the tree-shaded sidewalks in his grey fedora. On N. Gilbert Street stands a sturdy stone house with a brass plaque that proclaims it to be the Wentz House. My father’s name was Wentz, as was mine, before I married.
I felt that same sense of homecoming when my husband and I moved to a little farm in the Shenandoah Valley. It reminded me of the family farm described in my first grade reader. I'd always envied John, Jean and Judy their trips to their grandparents’ home to visit with the pony and the geese and the cows. That’s the way life should be, I thought. My grandparents lived in Jersey City.
I’m a sucker for historical recreations and spent my college years in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the College of William and Mary. When the academics got too intense I would nip over to Colonial Williamsburg and hang out in an herb garden and watch the sheep in a nearby pasture. But places like Colonial Williamsburg are scrubbed-up, Disneyland versions of history. In colonial times, the cobblestones were covered with a thick layer of horse manure. And if the historic smells of a whaling port like Mystic, Connecticut, were recreated, I’m sure it would dampen the tourist trade. We see only the elegant, bleached bones of history, like pure white Greek statues that bear no trace of their original garishly painted surfaces.
I live now in Da Nang, Vietnam, a vital city with a population of one million. Bus loads of tourists pass my home daily, heading for the near-by tourist town of Hoi An. Hoi An is full of shops that offer “traditional crafts” like wood and stone statuary, silk embroidery, and lacquer-ware wall installations. You won’t find any of these in a Vietnamese home. If my Vietnamese friends had that kind of disposable income, they’d buy a used computer, complete with pirated software. Their parents would have bought an electric fan or a television.
We long for a history that never existed.
Posted by Steady Footsteps