On Olympic Nationalism (but not really)

There’s a song I like – a whole album really, but one song in particular – by the Head and the Heart called Coeur d’Alene. Translated, the title means heart of an awl, which I’m pretty sure draws allusions to (or from) the Coeur d’Alene people, a Native American Tribe who are – in some texts – also called “the pointed heart” people. The reference brings up the question of being “from” somewhere; possibly, being “of” somewhere. It might also work to connect the reverence of place to the heart. A pointed heart, an awl-shaped heart, and being indigenous, bring from a place, of a place.

What does the heart have to do with place/placement?

I tell my husband that my heart’s heavy with the Atlantic. I tell him that looking at the Pacific is not-at-all-similar. Geography matters in this way. The geography of feeling distant, feeling the two of us try to stay close together.

Jesse reads Maphead and tells me that cartography is not geography. We sit in a small room when he tells me that and I think about Joshua Beckman’s poem:

hooray! For Lagos, Accra, Freetown, Dakar / your son is on the telephone the Germans / landed safely Seattle off to Istanbul / tiny planes please circle oh tine planes / do please please circle (“Ode to the Air Traffic Controller)

It’s the geographic location and wanting to fit all of it – the all of the all – into one place. Jesse wants to fit us here and he wants it to be easy to call my family, visit the other coasts, and still pronounce ourselves Midwestern. But the clarity and control of that “all-ness” is slippery. And I go back to the song:

But oh the songs people will sing for home / And for the ones that have been gone for too long / Oh the things people will do for the ones that they love.

So when Mitt Romney questioned London, I get why the whole city (and then the country) got a little pissed. You don’t question someone’s home. In Buffalo, where I was born and where I was married, someone at the wedding said “This place is horrible.” I hadn’t lived there in over twelve years, but her insult to “my city” made me feel a small fury.

I’ve hear the phrases: politcs of place, the landscape of identity, etc. I’ve even taught the coursework of home. It’s been on my mind again:

“Migrants must, of necessity, make a new imaginative relationship with the world, because of the loss of familiar habitats. And for the plural, hybrid, metropolitan result of such imaginings, the cinema, in which peculiar fusions have always been legitimate. . . may well be the ideal location.” —Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands (1992).

It’s on my mind when I look at Chelsea’s photographs from Africa and try to write about them, to figure out how to “use” them without pushing a romanticism or a colonialism on them. I watch the Olympics and think about how badly nationalism wants to preserve, to be something to identify with, to give and create identities. And what of regionalism? In my own situation, the Western region seems more foreign than my time in Czech, in Venezuela, in France, and anywhere else. And I know that difference is because I’m not “visitor” here.

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