Lejoyeux points to the “Florence syndrome,” described by French novelist Stendhal in the 19th century after he was overwhelmed by the beauty of Michelangelo’s David. The “Jerusalem syndrome” refers to “mystical” events and hallucinations experienced by some visitors to the holy city. “Traveler’s syndrome is an old story,” he said. The Paris syndrome is different in that it stems from the reality falling short of romanticized expectations. The visitors have to contend with unfriendly locals and tourism professionals who aren’t always welcoming, Zhou said. “Waiters are impatient, they don’t speak English,” he said. “Our clients tell us: Parisians are mean.”
When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.
But Jozef doesn’t stay, and as the novella closes, we see him in Vienna airport, about to board a flight to America:He did not want to fly to Chicago. He imagined walking from Vienna to the Atlantic Ocean, and then hopping on a slow transatlantic steamer. It would take a month to get across the ocean, and he would be on the sea, land and borders nowhere to be found. Then he would see the Statue of Liberty and walk slowly to Chicago, stopping wherever he wished, talking to people, telling them stories about far-off lands, where people ate honey and pickles, where no one put ice in the water, where pigeons nested in pantries.It’s as if jet flight is existentially shallow; a slower journey would enact the gravity and enormity of the transformation.