Home is the Silver Screen?

Might as well face it: the striking pattern is that I have the most fun and get the most excited about a place when it resembles the movies, television series, and video games I was raised on as a child; the closer, the better. To the extent that on my European vacation it’s been a dominant factor.

I go ski under the midnight sun in Norway, and my face lights up the most when I make like James Bond (or rather the numerous SPECTRE minions) in those movies. I go visit the beach in San Diego, and the most excited I get is when I spot a spike strip because it’s straight out of “Need for Speed”. I don’t even get homesick for the residence I left behind in the United States, but you know what I do miss? A coca-cola ICEE and AMC theater popcorn (I actually have found a coca-cola-flavored slushie drink…at some remote gas station in northern Sweden, of all places; you should have seen my expression).

When I feel sad, melancholy, wistful, what do I do? Load up the videos I have saved on my computer of promos for…Turner Classic Movies. Midnight sun is the coolest thing ever, but I find myself yearning to camp out under a summer night where the movie magic happens, under the stars in some woods that perhaps was used for a filming location for some long-forgotten piece I might have watched with my mother or grandmother. I’ve never really felt like anywhere was “home”, never experienced that sense of love and belonging that defines “family”, but when the music played, the graphic read “Now Showing”, and Robert Osborne came on the screen…for some reason it was all different.

Perhaps the closest thing I ever had to a home was northern Virginia, when I spent what seems to have been the most defining years of my childhood; I still have the accent that’s characteristic of the place (my date in Amsterdam liked it). But is that my home? For a long time I wondered, but I visit the region more frequently, even drop into a restaurant on the same highway I frequented as a child, and my heart sunk as I realized “home”, to the extent it ever was that, no longer exists. At least in Fairfax County. My mood perked up in Dulles as I walked those same halls in the airport that have somehow not changed in my two decades of absence, the great wide roads and suspiciously blank buildings perhaps having grown up a lot but still recognizable in a way I found heartwarming, as if the reaches of Loudoun County closest to Washington were waiting for me all this time.

Whatever spirit dwells in there seems to like me. I find the security of airports and the gauntlet of passport control and customs to be harrowing, every passage taking so much out of me I feel like I’ve made a horcrux, as if I’ve taken some great leap forward into the realm of Death. Alas, Dulles was no exception…but with everything I was dreading, I sailed through unmolested. I intoned all the while “be kind, Dulles”…and she was kind.

But is even that “home”? Perhaps. Often on this trip I’ve found myself wanting to just go home…a place I feel ought to be somewhere not far from Frying Pan Road. But I suspect it’s just all the locations that were used for or are reminiscent of the movies, television shows, and video games that made an impression, all melded together in some half-remembered cinematic dreamscape. For in those flickering visions is where I obviously feel like I belong, where I truly came from.

It’s not lost on me that exactly that is probably the reason why I like California as much as I do: because that’s where the dreams are real.

I was always told that perhaps I would fit in better in the old country, in the homeland of my ancestors, over in the European continent…and to a certain extent I do. I’ve never made a very good American I’ve felt; I dare say I might actually be a better European. But this just isn’t it. Nothing here captures my heart like that first beach on Pacific Coast Highway did, the western terminus of Interstate 10, the gateway out of the shadow world and into a realm where the stars shine down upon me.

I harbor not some illusion that if only I moved to Hollywood I’d take my place among them in some constellation of cinematic greatness…but I know there is a place on earth where every day and every night the ones I loved will be with me. And that is enough.

Soon I shall be home again…

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