Thomas Mann understood how it works. “The first few days at home after a change of scene,” he wrote, “are likewise experienced in a new, broad, more youthful fashion.” On the drive home from the airport on Saturday night, for instance, I briefly saw the road signs on I-94 through foreign eyes, and ever so briefly perceived English as a foreign language, an impenetrable assortment of letters rather than the transparent idiom I grew up with.
The birds in the backyard the next morning struck me, briefly, as an exotic presence. I’d forgotten about them. Against the snow, a cardinal perched dramatically in a leafless lilac outside the kitchen window seemed a gift. (I’ve long thought we’d do a great kindness to Europe if we were to export this beauty with its cheerful song.)
After a month of coffee only, my Yunnan tea tasted foreign in ways it usually doesn’t. By Monday the effect—like jet lag—was thinning. For, as Mann understood, “we are quicker to grow accustomed to the old rules than to their abrogation.” I went to the post office, the grocery store, the bank. Stocked up on Clinique at the mall. Filled the suet feeder, watched a bit of football.“ And if our sense of time has grown weary with age,” Mann goes on, “or was never all that strongly developed—a sign of an inborn lack of vitality—it very soon falls asleep again, and within twenty-four hours it it as if we were never gone and our journey were merely last night’s dream.” I love being home. I love being abroad. (Sometimes I even love the transition between the two.) I love the awareness one brings to the other. Like Mann, I wish that awareness lasted longer. If it did, maybe I wouldn’t have such wanderlust. My next trip starts a week from tomorrow.