Phone Home


As we drove from Blois to Nantes, Ivan told me that when he was a kid, everyone in the theater had a good laugh when E.T. pointed to space and said, “Telephone Maison!”

I guess the intended poignancy of that line was lost in translation. Or maybe the guy who did the E.T. voice-over in French thought it was a comedy. In any case, I definitely need to telephone maison. Part of it is physical exhaustion, but also, I have been a bit like E.T. here—in ways that have been good and bad.

After being here, I’m now fairly certain I couldn’t take up permanent residence in a country where English isn’t the primary language. Could I do it for a year? Yes. Several years? Maybe. Forever? No way. Language, its nuances, and the pleasure of speaking and listening are just too central to my experience of life.

That said, I have bonded with this place. In some ways it feels like discovering a lost relative or sibling. Actually, I think that’s a really useful metaphor for the relationship between France and America. We’re like siblings with brother and sister aspects. There’s love and tension, waxing and waning depending on our recent history.

At the moment, I think America is like the big brother who’s kinda been a dick lately, and our dickish behavior is lamented and resented by our smaller brother. Now that we’re on roids, we’ve forgotten all the times when we were little and they saved our asses on the playground. Since WWII, we’ve projected an emasculation onto the French. Too often we disregard our shared history because, hey, we’re bigger now, and big bro gets to tell little bro what to do.

Since I’m not a woman, I can’t fully speak to the sisterly aspect of our sibling relationship with France, but I suspect it’s through the feminine that we’ll eventually rebuild and heal the damage we’ve done being arrogant big bros. Hopefully in the future, we’ll be like sisters who are best friends, sharing the things that have real value (instead of male valuations) like good food, jazz, and joie de vivre.

In Paris, I remember standing in the train station, looking up, and seeing this massive painting. A train has arrived at the station, everyone is in the midst of intense emotional reunions, and at the center is a man whose arms are thrown open not for another person, but to his home.

I understood the painting intellectually at the time, but I’m feeling it now. Home. E.T. phone home. E.T. exhausted from symbiotic relationship with Elliott. E.T. need long bath, sleep. E.T. need other E.T.