Excerpt: returning to the field

This is from my field notebook earlier this spring, as I returned to France after spending some time back in Chicago this winter.

march 2 – on returning to france

the sky hazed and prongs of sun forked into the railroad cars and the gravel ballast of the tracks. in the tunnel the buckles of the woman across the aisle shine and her hair is a vast mound. near me a man in gray types up his notes on a laptop, palefaced and bespectacled, and i stepped on his toe as i sat down. little whistles of mechanized high hats come from what i hypothesize is someone beside me with headphones; there’s a smell of shit replaced before long with a smell of vinyl seating; the guy across from me, his notebook falls from the seat on my toe, and he picks up his notebook before i can, but he sees my readiness to pick it up for him and says merci. the border guards barely looked at me as i entered. the guard looked african — always contradictory when social norms are enforced by the non-normative social type, though of course this formulation doesn’t do justice to the case at hand. we’re passing sevran, aulnay-sous-bois. it’s noticeably different light and heat from chicago, just as the meteorologists would have led us to expect. my thoughts feel unfocused as i write this. the country is not terribly unfamiliar so far. little houses, signs in french. red-tiled roofs. torn-up hair of the weeds and brush trackside that’s dead brown & unkempt. at least i observe that i have a will to write. as we get closer the tumbleweeds of white buildings rise up into landscape.