The absence from the blog during the past week was due to a trip by both me and Barba to a small college town in Texas. The occasion was past co-blogger Rollo's marriage. Flaco also attended and was the best man. I played the role of the priest. The town is where we all met in college before heading off to other corners of the planet for grad school, work, travel, and other forms of life. The event was actually a series of events. A barbecue on Friday made by a couple of friends now in Portland who make the best smoked brisket on the planet. On Saturday, a formal rehearsal dinner of lamb and other Lebanese delights (Rollo's lovely wife is Lebanese). On Sunday, the wedding and another fine dinner, followed by a late night of flowing champagne and, in the wee hours, Lone Star beer from the can. Meat and beer. That's Texas.
The occasion brought in old friends from all over the country and world, some of whom I hadn't seen in a decade. A place that is more or less otherwise dead to me came alive with all of these lovely people assembling probably for the last time in the town. The place has always been unique in itself and - I think I can speak for all of us - a source of both pride and disgust. Texas, like a domineering father, is something whose character you both inherit and struggle against. It demands conformity to its alleged independent streak, and yet the struggle is to become independent of its conformity. That is the kind of real Texas, its valuable bit, that all of us at the wedding have developed.
On the flight back to DC, I read a brief essay by the writer Michael Mewshaw on travel and travel writing. Mewshaw, in his musings on his own travels to exotic places, says that Texas, where he spent a few years, is "one of the most exotic, remote, culturally fascinating, and confusing places I've ever visited." I agree. I moved there with my family at the end of high school. From Bangkok. And I struggled mightily to understand the place and not get beat up trying. After years living in Asia, I didn't fit its categories and attitudes. I eventually had to leave, and I'll never return there again to live.
As Mewshaw says, "we are... not just who and what we are. We are shaped by where we are. Place works on us just as do events and people, and we become - or have the capacity to become - different people in different settings." Yes, I've long assumed this and it lies at the core of my own predilections for travel. Perhaps I don't like who I am. Perhaps I am many-homed. But the lesson for me from this trip to Texas is that the old idea about people mattering is what really does matter in this case. Without those people who struggled against Texas while being of Texas, many of whom left for good, that particular place is an empty receptacle. The tragedy and the joy - and it's always about paradoxes - is that these friends constituted the place for me. Without them there, it is not a real place.
What remains is to know the place for the first time again, which I know I'll never do because I've known it before. What truly remains are the friends.