If I am being intellectually honest, this scene in Amelie shapes me and my work as much as any book I've ever read. The sense of synchronicity, of connectedness, of the life of a place, are all things I try to do in what work I've done as a historian. I am in love with vignette and with connection, and as I look back at the chapters of my dissertation, I see how I tend towards it even without thinking.
I've been thinking lately about my love of America, and what that love means. I've never loved the flag, or the songs, or any of the mandatory dross of the Fourth of July. No, I love it for what it is, which is an incredible range of places and peoples, and a vision of all these places and people as one nation.
Current events have not been kind to this vision of Us, even before we saw children be separated from their mothers because of where they were born. The day after the election, stunned, I took to the woods outside of my town, past the pastures and the neighborhoods to the creeks, woods, and high trestles along the path. I played a podcast that had come out before the election, and it was exactly the balm I needed: A calm voice reading Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." It was a reminder that even in the 19th century, we could conceive of this near-continental nation as what it was: a teeming, expanding, vivacious, varied whole. Whitman's self expands out to encompass the nation, and with it, the unobserved moment, the adobe house, the landscape, the animal and plant. It is omnivorous in its appetites and omnipotent in its point of view; narratively bisexual, sensuous, and open-minded. I keep it on my phone, as a bulwark against the anxieties I feel, and the disgust at the news I see. It came before the election, but it is the walking companion I need after it.
: If you are into this sort of thing, run, don't walk, to read Kris Lane's Quito, 1599
: From the feed of the best, most unplanned-tears-inducing history podcast out there, The Memory Palace