nostos – the return of the native

 He came home from the war with a party in his head… 

The ancient Greeks, those great nomenclaturists, had a word for the tale in which the hero came home after many adventures: nostos. There’s a very fine essay by Anna Bonifazi in the American Journal of Philology, Winter, 2009 – your fave journal, reader, and mine too – that explores the way this word played out in Greek literary culture.

“From the literary point of view, a nostos tale basically concerns a sea voyage, including a storm that causes a shipwreck, a landing in an unforeseen place, and the survival of the one who experiences all this. Even before the Odyssey narrative was conceived, nostos tales and Odysseus’ nostos tales were presumably widespread.”

Our return to Atlanta did not, thank God, include shipwreck or the culling of our crew by one-eyed giants. But as in any return home, journey’s end puts in question the identity of the endpoint – of “home”. In fact, my relation to Atlanta – or more properly, the Atlanta metropolitan area – is not that of a native. I wasn’t born there. I was raised there. On the other hand, my mother, father, and father’s parents have all died there – it is the country of all my significant ghosts. It is where my brothers and one sister live. It is the place I left, when I was eighteen, and have come back to for variable stays, but always with the plan to depart. And maybe, maybe that really is home – it is where one plots one’s departure from. Odysseus did not want to leave Ithaca – he pretended to be mad, when the proposition was put to him that he should join the insane Greek expedition to return Menelaus’s wife to him by main force, but was found out and forced to go along. Yet when he returns, and rejoins his wife Penelope (“journeys end in lovers’ meetings”), he sets off again on a journey whose purpose is only to fulfill an oracle.

Atlanta, I think, is actually a very fine place to call home. When I was a disconsolate adolescent – moaning for arty circles and bohemian parents, like the worst snobbish teen you can imagine – I thought of Atlanta as a provincial place, where the ethos would always be Lennard Skinner. Now, so many eons later, I see that the provincial was myself. Atlanta is an amazingly diverse place: unlike Los Angeles, it is not a place, for the most part, of ethnic conclaves. The distant metro suburban counties, Cobb, Gwinnett, or even Dekalb, which in my youth were white flight chickenhouses, have long become rainbow: black, Asian, Latinx, white, jumbled together as in some advertisement or sitcom. Our last afternoon in Lawrenceville (the county seat of Gwinnett, most famous for being the place where Larry Flynt was shot by a person unknown, or at least unprosecuted – although Joseph Franklin later confessed to the deed) was spent, given the sogginess of the afternoon, going to Sugarloat Mills Mall – which turned out to be a wonderful place. The Mall’s great anchor store is a huge depot of sporting goods that stocks boats, fishing poles, bows and arrows, a huge aquarium stocked with bass and gar, and guns. Adam, in fact, got to shoot a play gun at targets in one of the store’s dioramas, and so did I. The Wikipedia entry on Sugarloaf Mills describes it, unkindly, as “struggling” and catering to “low income” shoppers. Whatever. To my mind, it was infinitely superior to the shopping mall at the end of Third Street in Santa Monica, where you couldn’t get a shirt under one hundred bucks or a belt under forty. Fuck that, as they say at Sugarloaf Mills (not really – politeness still reigns in the South!). Here, you can get that shirt for ten dollars and they will throw in a belt that is just as good as any you can get at Nordstrom for five. But what you can do, besides, at Sugarloaf mills is sit on a massage chair for five bucks, experience virtual reality at the virtual reality kiosk, play weird childfriendly variants of miniature golf, have a medieval theater dinner, race toy cars in a shop that is laid out in the most economically inefficient way possible (seemingly the shop can only accommodate five racers at a time, which means that even on the best of days, they cannot make more than a few thousand dollars – which made me wonder, as we raced cars there, how they can afford the upkeep), watch a discount movie or shop, miraculously, for books – or even get mild head shop-ish paraphernalia. I know that Walter Benjamin would pick Sugarloaf over Santa Monica’s mall every time. I’m with Walt.

The Christmas week was soggy. About five -ten years ago, Georgia and the whole southeast was suffering such a drought that Alabama, Georgia and Florida nearly came to armed battle over who got dibs on the Chattahoochee water flow. Now – according to the Viconian rule of corsi e recorsi that rules the Gods, the stars, and mankind – Georgia has an overabundance of the stuff that W.C. Fields so despised. We sortied out to several parks during intervals of non-sogginess and saw the landscape, which gave me a deep satisfaction. I’ve always liked the Northern Georgia forests – even when I was a teen, I would apply to them that line from Yeats: “The trees are in their autumn beauty”. Melancholy was my fave teen mood – followed by brooding and above it all. Hey, I was a snot, what can I say? Everyone to their own teenage emotional shell, and devil take the hindmost. I retain, as a merry old man, my liking for oaks that are bluesing their loss of leafage. We went out and saw plenty of that action. We also surveyed the new developments around Emory University, thus upsetting my mental map of the area. In contrast, the area around Stone Mountain and Lithonia seems still to be in the era of Flannery O’Connor. While my hometown, Clarkston, long ago became an emblem of immigration and change. Never in my wildest dreams – when I was a teen – did I imagine that the most vibrant religious denomination in Clarkston in the 21st century would be centered around a mosque. My sister told me that the Baptist Church in Clarkston, amazingly, has been sold to some other denomination. There goes the very symbol of everything I rejected when I first read Nietzsche. Somehow, I feel it is a case of lese majeste – they can’t do this to Nietzsche!

Adam was a great hit with my family. And they were a great hit with him – at a certain point, he started complaining about how “boring” Paris was compared to Atlanta. It is true – your kids are your parents revenge on you.

And then we came back to Paris. Hope this New Year is better on every dimension than 2018 for all who read this – and for all who don’t!

About Roger 55 Articles
I am a translator, author and editor living in Paris. I finished a novel in March, and am busy trying to find an agent. In the meantime, I thought I'd like to start a magazine. Willett's is meant to be a venue for the review of books, personal reflections, and political bitching - and everything else.

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