22 April 2014

Getting the right eyes on

It rained all day yesterday. Not a hard rain, but a steady one. Today, I don't know what to expect. This morning, I've been sitting here enjoying looking at photos that I took in North Carolina last week. It's pure escapism. I'm glad to be back in France but I miss home just a little.

I don't know about you, but when I travel back to a familiar place, it takes a while for my eyes to adjust. At first, nothing I see corresponds to the vision of the place that I have stored in my mind. The roads are wider, for example, and flatter, and less scenic. There are too many traffic lights and electrical wires. The houses look more fragile, and less well maintained than I remember. Everything looks almost shabby at first.

That's how I felt when I arrived in Morehead City on April 1. It's the town where I was born and where I spent the first 20 years of my life. Most of my family still lives there. I go visit every year. I love the place, but I can't imagine ever living there again.

When I return to a place, it always takes me a few days to start noticing the beauty instead of the flaws. It's got to be more than just a trick of the light.

The eye-adjustment thing used to happen to me during the years when I lived in San Francisco and would come spend one, two, or three weeks on vacation in France. That was when I realized what was going on. Riding home in the taxi from SFO airport, I'd look around and be surprised by what I saw. Wide highways with too many cars on them. Ticky-tacky wood-frame houses perched on hillsides, about to slide down, and painted in funny colors, looking very temporary. Way too many utility poles and wires everywhere. It didn't look pretty — though everybody knows how beautiful San Francisco is.

I think the same thing used to happen when I'd return to Paris after months or years in the States. The city would look dirty, and the buildings run-down. Everybody was dressed in dark colors and had greasy hair. I'd have to wait several days for my eyes to adjust. "I don't have my Paris eyes on yet," I'd think, when I found myself wondering what I had ever found attractive and charming about the place. The lesson is: don't rush to judge a place. Give it time.

I don't feel the same way about the neighborhood where we live now. I guess it's because it's not in a big town or city, and because it's mostly green — especially at this time of year. I realize here that I've already had my Saint-Aignan eyes on for a good week. Looking back at my photos, I can enjoy seeing what my North Carolina eyes were focused on not so many days ago.


  1. Ken,
    What an interesting insight into the way we see things...
    I can see what you mean....
    After a fortnight here, Leeds always seemed worse than when I'd left a couple of weeks previously...
    but I'd never thought about it as you describe here.

  2. Hi Ken and welcome home. One of the advantages for St. Aignan of your yearly trip is that you leave and it's still wintery or just starting to look like spring and when you come back, spring has sprung. The general comment of your trip, though, the slight deception on returning "home" rings true.

  3. Yup, I've noticed this, too, but never thought to put this kind of label on it, recognizing it as a common event. I remember once, arriving in Paris, and, like you, suddenly seeing nothing but dirty floors in the Metro stations, and grey, too-busy streets. Of course, I was also tired, and worried that the guests I was showing Paris off to, would see this and hate it. But, within a day, and after a good night's sleep, it was all back to wonder and excitement :)

  4. i love that you said all of this. when i got back to my west coast city i'm always shocked at how fast everyone drives and how angry they all are... but then i get used to it. and when i get back 'on farm' i think, "ugh! all i have is chickens!" until a few days pass then i think, "all i need is chickens!" i guess it takes a while for my city eyes to get back to farm eyes.

  5. You could have been a poet, Ken. Love this post and good comments! Our eyes connect with our brains in a mysterious way. The rapid changing of Spring does a number on my eyes. Every day things look different, plus there is strong light before the leaves come on the trees.

    My eyes had such a shock when I returned from Paris in '66 that I still remember the feeling. The finned cars were huge monster-like and our highways so large and busy and loud. I was ready to get on the next plane back to Paris, but nope had to begin my senior year in college and get my eyes back in focus.

  6. What an interesting observation. I have experienced this. Not so much "You can't go home again" as "You can't see home again" (until you wait a few days). Thanks--well put.

  7. Et bien, je suis comme tes autres lecteurs, j'aime la précision du phénomène que tu nous décris...
    Je ne crois pas ressentir la même chose que ce que tu décris, mais je comprends...


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