My favorite movie of all time is Sabrina (the 1995 version), and my favorite quote within that move is from the letter Sabrina is writing to her father on the fortnight of her return to America; “It’s strange, it’s gone by so fast. Gertrude Stein said America is my country and Paris is my hometown. I’ll always feel that way about Paris. I want so much for you to know what it’s meant to me.” Later in the movie, during a touching scene with Harrison Ford (Linus), the lovely Julia Ormond (Sabrina) tells Linus earnestly “I met myself in Paris.”
Long before I moved to Hingham, I loved that movie. I was (romantically) fascinated and fantasized of the possibility of going to Paris and ‘meeting’ myself. Then, my oldest daughter studied in Paris for a month during her senior year in high school and come home with stories of excessive crowds, crime, muggings and fear. That bubble was burst quite quickly.
Four years later, when that same daughter was a senior in college, she found that she would be one class shy of graduating in the spring. As a division 1 softball pitcher (a spring sport), she would not have time to take the extra class in the spring, so she looked into what was called a ‘mini-mester’ abroad for the month of January. She found that she could stay in the south of France and study French from 9 until 5 daily in Monaco. That month would earn the credits she needed since it was 8 hours of class daily.
Based upon her previous impressions of France (although Paris is in the north), I decided to go along with her. We were housed together with a lovely woman named Ann in a small city in France just beyond the border to Monaco. Each day, we arose early and walked to class in Monaco through a progression of winding streets and never-ending stone steps.
Miranda became friends with the other kids from George Mason in her class. I was the only ‘old girl’ so I was left with evenings to myself. Since every inch of Monaco is monitored by cameras (or at least was at that time), I felt safe to explore. I walked the streets of Monaco and ventured into quaint restaurants and businesses. I found a little cafe with a (very handsome and attentive) Italian man who spoke fluent English. In hindsight, I have often thought that if I were a less moral woman, he would have been my romantic fling abroad. However, since I was the same person then that I am now, I flirted a little and then stopped going there when he showed obvious interest.
In hindsight, I am surprised by the adventurous spirit and fearlessness I felt while I was there. Maybe it is because we were actually living there and not just staying in a hotel. One weekend, my daughter and I booked train passage to Italy, where we explored Genoa, Pisa and Florence (Firenze [spoken with a beautiful lilt] to the natives). We spoke no Italian, but we got by pretty well….until the next night on the way home (we stayed overnight in Florence where they treated us like family—LOVE Italy and Italians!). Our limited Italian did not allow us to understand that the train stopped going into Monaco earlier. We were stranded in Genoa, and had to take a taxi all the way back to Monaco…a little scary at the time, but a good story to tell now.
Now, after all of that, you might think I am going to reiterate that quote from Sabrina with a slight adjustment in cities—that one first said by Gertrude Stein. But although that trip was the beginning of opening my eyes to the great world that exists, I have little desire to return to that area. There are too many other wonderful places to explore.
Since that trip, almost 13 years ago, I have had the opportunity to explore several other countries. There is such beauty is visiting other lands and peoples. But, all of the trips were just trips. I never felt inspired in the way Sabrina spoke of in the movie. I thought perhaps it was just movie fodder after all. Then, my husband’s job moved him to the Boston area and we moved into a cute little apartment in Hingham.
I can still remember the day we discovered Hingham. We were on a 3 day apartment searching trip so we had pretty much back to back appointments all over the Boston area. We visited an apartment complex in Chestnut Hill that we liked but I didn’t think I could write in an area so congested with traffic (noise). They mentioned they had more apartments in Hingham, which was less congested. So, without an appointment, we decided to take a look at Hingham.
On the drive there, Steve (my husband) flatly said that he had no intention of driving that far to work every day. With traffic, he thought it would take well over an hour. I said okay, but since we were almost there, we might as well have a look and grab some lunch.
There is a small bridge of sorts as you enter Hingham, where you can see the large expanse of the bay out to your left just as you see the sign that indicates you are entering Hingham. The view took my breathe away. We drove a short distance further and found the apartments right along the water’s edge in the area called the Shipyard. I was spellbound by the absolute beauty of this area, so completely different from the surrounding cities, it was as if we had entered another country.
The rental agent told us there were no units available, but one was coming up. She had to call the tenant to see if we could gain entrance to view the apartment the next day. So, we left and decided to stretch our legs a bit before grabbing a bite to eat. There was a pathway all along the water’s edge, with ages old launching stations. During World War Two, 227 warships were built and launched from this water’s edge in just over a three year span.
As we walked, an excitement grew in my chest that I can still feel as I write these words (probably enhanced by the fact that I am writing these words while sitting in my son’s office—in Hingham!). I remember squeezing Steve’s hand and saying, “I love it here. I could sit on the bench at the end of the pier and write.”
He was not convinced, reiterating that he had no intention of driving over an hour to and from work each day (in Pennsylvania, he came home for lunch daily–we lived that close). Then, as we rounded the last bend in the walkway, there was a huge open patch of land covered with poppies. Poppies. Those of you who know me well, know that I’ve always been fascinated by poppies: by their history, their place in wartime storytelling, their frail look but amazing resiliency, the rarity of their existence in America, and by the coincidence that they were California’s state flower after I impulsively moved there at age 20. So, again….poppies.
I confess, this is one of the few times I steamrolled over my husband’s objections. During a lovely lunch at Alma Nove, a wonderful little restaurant on the waterfront owned by the ‘other’ Wahlberg brother (Paul), I told Steve that Hingham was where I wanted to live…that the only thing that would stop me from renting that apartment was if the previous owner had two cats and was a smoker (as a migraine sufferer, I am highly sensitive to allergens). Well, the previous owner actually had three cats, was a smoker and the lady downstairs was a smoker too. Still, I rented the apartment. 🙂 I knew I was supposed to live there. I could feel it deep inside.
During the year and a half I spent in Hingham, I found myself. I didn’t really know I was lost. I also found a side of my husband I didn’t even know existed. Take the man out of the small town and small town expectations, and discover the adventurous spirit that exists within him. Even though I traveled back to our home in Pennsylvania frequently during this time, the 1 1/2 years we spent there were the best of our entire marriage…the memories I hold onto when I want to walk out the door.
We only brought Steve’s car to Massachusetts so I would have a car when I flew back to PA. My lack of a vehicle inspired me to explore by walking and riding my bike. At the shipyard, there are shops to take care of every necessity walking distance away. In the summertime, they showed big screen movies out on the lawn next to the waterfront. I suppose there are a hundred charming things I could tell you about Hingham, but the thing that stands out most in my memory is how ‘at home’ I felt.
I never felt ‘at home’ growing up in Indiana. I always felt like an outsider looking in. I loved California where everyone is an outsider and the culture there is one of acceptance. We moved all over the state, so there is no one place I would have called home. Pennsylvania has too many negative memories for me to ever think of it in a positive way. Logically, I can realize it is a beautiful, safe, affordable state…all wonderful qualities for people who aren’t outcasts. And Maryland? I love Maryland. But it is not Hingham. In my heart, Hingham is my hometown.
So, I finally get it; the phrase “I met myself in Paris.” I met myself in Hingham, Massachusetts.
I am lucky enough to be in Hingham right now. My son took a job in Boston last year and because he visited here in the past, decided upon Hingham as home to his family. I love coming to visit…and as you can see, as always, I feel inspired to write here.
Where is your hometown? Is it a real place that you’ve visited or a place in your heart? Do you dream of finding a place like Sabrina did in the movie? Have you ever seen that movie? I encourage you to watch it. Maybe you’ll love it as much as me! If nothing else, it will make you think. 🙂
Happy Friday. I’m home.