Every small town is an island. News from that big thing – the world – travel in bottles to and fro. The most adventurous members of the community defy forests and dragons, to bring some piece of finesse back with them, a souvenir, surprising their countrymen with marvellous updates about what’s going on Out There. The greatest passions form. Trends that for a town mouse – smoother and world-weary – come and go, here find fertile soil and take root. People and celebrities that are just a small dot of light in the great sky here acquire a titanic stature. Becoming notorious. You discover that everybody knows the lyrics to “Country Roads” and that they sing it tilting their heads back and closing their eyes. That Eddie Vedder is part of this community as if he was actually born here.
A small town, with all its placid calm, has big, burning passions and rivalries. You can see that Great Love you’ve only watched in movies, enacted. There’s a county Belle. You discover Rumour: these people know my name; they know what I’ve been up to last night; what medicine I’m on; where I live. You can see ancestral bad blood running in the glances of Montagues and Capulets. There are partisans.
Because they’re not just people, you see. They’re folk. Bumping into each other, for better or for worse, their whole lives. Scratching at each other’s doors in eternal loops. Staying together, even if they move to another town. (I was laughing at D, the other day, saying that he’s always with people from his village, and being cosmopolitan for him means chit-chatting with somebody from the other side of the valley.)
Indifference doesn’t exist here. Everybody is part of something, everybody matters. This depth is immeasurable, and at first a bit scary. When I was a kid, we didn’t say hi to our neighbours living on the upper floor. I was not used at seeing people enter from French windows and backyard entrances without knocking. I’m greeted on the road, expected even. I’m constantly and affectionately fed, washed, taken care of – a thing that at times surprises and upsets me, just as much as I’m vexed from rough manners and loud and high-pitched voices (speaking of which, M., the cleaning lady, comes into mind – but I think that just a post wouldn’t be enough to do her justice).
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien.