Mr Great Great Great Grandfather Schlegel left the motherland in the mid-1800s. After 15 years traveling the frontier territories, he settled in Iowa. Lost connection with the old country, building a new legacy, a family, a law practice in a new country. A wild untamed country.
During my last trip over here (to Europe where I sit typing this), I chatted with a colleague. He mentioned he had family in America. Someone from the family generations ago crossed the great water, went to the wild land - but they lost touch. They never knew what became of them.
I never thought of it from the other side. That there is some Schlegel family here in Europe, that might occasionally think about my great great great grandfather Schlegel who left and was never heard from again. I wonder if they wonder; Did he die, merely survive, start a thriving legacy? And as far as me and my name? Who did I come from? I have the same name as a minor philosopher, but whether I am related by blood or similar interest in romantic poetry, I will never know.
As I drive these European roads, motorways, almost literal cow paths, through small towns and fields, shifting up and down the gears, I am reminded of the midwest. It's as if I am visiting an alternate universe. I can see why so many Europeans settled there (in the midwest). The fertile fields. The forests. The animals. It is familiar, the lush land.
I can see the attraction. I can see what was brought - ideas, hard work, beliefs, traditions. And I see how those were changed by the wide, open land. Big sky. Possibilities. The farther West, the more the change. I guess that makes sense... you'd have to give up a lot (and want to give it up) the farther you moved West. The land is RAW. It is unworked by human hands. It is land on a geographic scale. No forests or fields, this is rock and water, the elements and geology.
Everything is easy here - in Europe. Things are well made. Well crafted. Attention to detail. Sophisticated. Expensive (but only comparatively to the cheap Chinese production). Quality. Artisanial. There are years upon years upon years of civilization to stand upon. Build upon. Then there's also all the baggage that comes along with years of civilization. Reinvention, I think, is difficult. In some ways I think it's easier to be who you are, but I don't know that it would be easy to change the image once decided upon. But life is easy here. Comfortable. The land does not challenge. The land has been tamed.
The thing that strikes me the strongest is society - human society - civilization. People have lived together in close quarters and cultivated the land here - much much longer than America. There's been time to refine things - including how to socially interact - learn to live with others in such close quarters. Other places in the world have experienced this longer - China, India - but I do not yet know these places.
It should be no surprise that we're rawer in America. We've only had 600 or so years (of development of the dominant society - please realize I am leaving out a huge hole of Native American Society, but that culture has unfortunately not significantly influened mainstream Americanism.) There's more physical space, so people spread out - because there is space to spread out. Survivors had to be resilient and independent - especially if you moved West of the Mississippi. Risk takers with nothing to lose. Kansas City was the last bastion of back water culture until San Francisco. Kansas City has more fountains than Venice.
I think about the people who came, and still come to my country. It attracts not a race, an ethnicity - but a way of thinking about the world. It attracts an attitude. The farther West you go, the more intense this attitude, until you reach California. It has a reputation for a reason. It is, I think, the metaphorical edge of this world. It is the place you go to invent, reinvent. It is here, in my city of Angels, I honed my ability to pluck possibilities, pull them through the fine mesh of imagination and manifest them physically.
With every trip away from her, I bring a piece with me - this skill to pluck the possibilities, to enable a new view, invention, reinvention, seeding her beyond the deserts.
A week or so ago, I remembered the white lilacs of my childhood. Lilacs were/are my favorite flower, and they were familiar in the town I grew up in. I loved the deep purple ones and also the white ones... because who called a white flower lilac? (Even as a child I loved contradictions.)
As I drove down Highway 1 from San Francisco last week, I thought about white lilacs. They just popped into my head. It had been decades since I had seen a white lilac, let alone think about them. Lilacs do not grow in California, except in some of the colder mountain regions. And every lilac I have seen in California has been light purple... or lilac.
But today, as I explored these Belgium country roads along the roadside were bush after bush of lilacs - not the light purple ones, but the white and dark psychedelic purples one. Strange synchronicity, this memory of white lilacs... or perhaps it was just the whisper of my ghost?