The Last Good Paradise
Behind the Scenes:
Location, Location, Location
(A Sort Of Love Story)
I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.
— Melville, Moby-Dick
My mother was born in Slovenia. I was born in Austria. Soon after, mother and baby,we began our nomad existence. We lived, briefly, in various countries in Europe before settling in Southern Italy, mostly in Naples and Sorrento. My happiest childhood memories are associated with Italy. We lived with an Italian family who treated us like family. In season I played at picking grapes and olives in the fields with the adults. We ate outside at long tables: large pots of pasta e fagioli or pasta with fresh garden tomatoes. I remember helping my mom lower a basket by rope outside our second story window and haul up fresh mozzarella wrapped in grape leaves.
When we came to the US, we lived briefly in New York state before getting in our car, a Mustang, and driving across the country. My mother wanted to see the West. I remember sitting in an IHOP in Winnemucca, Nevada, and being mesmerized by someone ordering a stack of pancakes (which I’d never seen) with a fried egg on top, then syrup poured over the whole thing. My mom bought a tooled leather cowboy belt.
Needless to say, this was not textbook childrearing, and yet I remember sitting on our rooftop terrace in Italy discussing another trip to the US, and feeling sorry for my school friends who had to stay in the same place. Traveling seemed a great adventure, and my mom always made it fun. I got to pick out my new wardrobe and a suitcase for our trip back to Naples aboard an ocean liner. We went by boat to take our dog. I was allowed to sit with my mom in the adult dining room. When I was good, a waiter followed us back to our cabin carrying a silver tray filled with cookies and milk for bedtime. Was I ever homesick? Did I ever just want to stay in place? I remember my mom telling me that home is wherever the two of us were. It was. It is.
Ironically for the last twenty plus years we have been fairly stationary. She mostly in Central California; me, mostly in Southern California. But the wanderlust is still there. We’ve changed houses a lot. We talk endlessly of other possibilities, weighing them as if we might actually pick up and move. We sublimate by traveling. My mother likes to stay in hotels; in fact, she would prefer to live in one, or at least find a house without a kitchen. I always try to stay in apartments. That is the way I can best imagine living there. Whether it is Buenos Aires, Florence, or Istanbul, one of my must activities is grocery shopping to get to know a place. This horrifies my mother.
One of our favorite shows to watch on television is House Hunters International. We have become armchair nomads. We always call each other on the phone: Did you see that apartment in Rome? That house in Granada? The tree house in the Costa Rican rainforest? We are fascinated by these intrepid travelers, some relocating for jobs, some for adventure, others for a higher quality of life (an inordinate number of these people come from Los Angeles, my mother likes to point out). As their choices narrow, we root for these strangers. We long for a sequel to show what became of them. It would be a bit of a letdown if they had returned back to their old lives. Imagine if Gauguin had given up the islands after a few years and returned to being a stockbroker in Paris. Picture him at dinner parties bragging about his “nature” experience.
The spark that set off The Last Good Paradise was wanderlust — Ann dreams of going off to a desert island, and circumstances conspire to fulfill that fantasy. When she meets Loren, who has given up his life in France for Polynesia, that is their bond — hunger for a new place — and he shows her both the happy and unhappy consequences of that decision.
T S Eliot writes “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” One way to understand where we are from is to go away and gain distance, but in the modern world, many of us won’t actually go home. Instead perhaps the end of all our exploring will be to find our true selves, wherever they happen to be taking up residence. That is surely a trip worth taking.