Posted by: vlibrizzi | February 20, 2009

Getting used to this “Unaccustomed Earth”

On the plane to France almost two months ago, I was reading a book that began with a quotation from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It reads:

“Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.”

I read that quotation over and over, not wanting to forget it, and as soon as I arrived at our new apartment here in Fontainebleau, I quickly scribbled it down in my journal.

I was so struck by the quotation when I read it because, at the time, I felt like Hawthorne was speaking to me—I had just arrived at a brand new place (unaccostomed earth, if you will) and was a bit worried that we may have made the wrong decision to leave the comforts of our home (and country) to go on this one year excursion. The quotation made me feel confident again in our decision to move to France because, as it says, “Human nature will not flourish…if  it be planted and replanted…in the same worn-out soil.” It was right for me to “strike [my] roots into [this] unaccustomed earth” and I have spent the last two months enjoying (almost) every minute of it!

You can imagine how truly delighted I was then to find out that one of my favorite American authors (no, not Hawthorne. He’s, sadly, long gone), but Jhumpa Lahiri, the woman who included Hawthorne’s quotation in her most recent collection of short stories called Unaccostomed Earth which I read on the airplane to France, was giving a book reading….in Paris! 

I asked a few book-loving friends (members of our INSEAD partners’ book club)  to join me, and after class, we crowded into the tiny (but amazing!) English book shop called The Village Voice and listened to Lahiri read from her most recent novel and take questions. 

img_2122After the reading, I had her sign my copy of her most recent book. You can see her signing books from last night in the photo to the left. I wanted to tell her how meaningful the quotation in the beginning of her book was to me, but there was a huge crowd and I was feeling a bit sheepish. 

 

Then, my book-loving friends and I grabbed a quick dinner of nachos, img_2123quesadillas, and beer at the pub across the street from the book shop, called The Frog and the Princess. So for those of you that think you can’t get a decent plate of nachos here in France, think again 🙂

You can see how excited I was last night to get to hear Lahiri read just by the ecstatic (read: goofy) expression on my face in the photo to the right at the pub. 

But, when I got home and started thinking about what to write in the blog for today, I started to think about Hawthorne’s quotation again. And, I realized, after two wonderful months of supermarket blunders (and successes too!), many glasses of wine and morsels of cheese with new, and dear friends, many conversations lost in translation, and visits to big cities and small French villages—this “earth” is no longer “unaccustomed” to me.

Now it just feels like home.

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