He called me from Tennessee. He was a friend of Floris', a Dutch boy I met at the Massachusetts L'Abri
when I went to visit my friend Rhonda in March. Floris was a big fan of Louis B Armstrong and I told him he should find a way to New Orleans for Jazz Fest
in May. He did one better; he told his friend Maartin that I was so nice and why doesn't he look me up when he makes it to the states?
I have never been outside of the US, nor have I been anywhere in the US besides the East coast. New Orleans has been as far South and West as I've ever been. But, having grown up in a resort and then moving here, I've met my share of international students. They like places where they can work under the table, unnoticed. They are far more resourceful than us stupid Americans.
I drove Maartin to the train station to get his pack from the locker there. He had already been to one day of the Fest and was quickly cooling off from his first Southern sunburn. His curly hair and smooth skin made him timeless, and for a while I could only guess his age. Floris himself would have been hard for me to age-stamp if it wasn't for the unfortunate spray of acne that crept around his cheeks. Maartin was 20 and traveling the US alone for the summer, for kicks, visiting the extended family he had in the states, sleeping in hostels, reading in trains. I was led to remember what I was doing at 20. I had just graduated from college and was making my way down here to be with my loser boyfriend at the time.
We of course talked about America as we walked around the French Quarter. Why was it such a globally acknowledged power fo such a young country? We talked about the lack of any genuiune culture in America, how everything we have we stole from someone else. Maartin told me that the car to bike ratio is reversed in Holland, and that the slightly buckled street we were crossing, a mild one for New Orleans, would be a horrible street in Holland. I gestured a lot with my hands as we spoke, always thinking that it helps the hearer undertand. By the second day, I began to steal his accent. Typical American.
I refused his many attempts to get me to go with him for the tourist stuff of his goals while he was here, before he hopped a train to work in Orlando for some money to get home. When he spoke, he had this way of smiling too quickly and closing his eyes in a slow blink, as though he didn't understand a thing I was saying, even though he spoke perfect English. Floris did that too; must be a Dutch thing, a thing for the young men neutral countries to do.
I gave him a ride to the train station and shook his hand goodbye, when I returned I had a lilly in one of my pasta jars with a note that read:
Living is a state of mind. Thank you for letting me stay.
I went out for coffee, tried to hold on to what little piece of European style this city can afford a local. I reflected on my train ride here before I moved and how, while I clung to my boyfriend's arm as we walked in places, Maartin strode like he'd known them for years.
It was almost as if I had visited him.