Moving is a life-changing event, as Proust and I both attest. In the last few months, I’ve moved from a 2100 square foot flat in the North of Panhandle district, that I lived in for 17 years, to a 12 x 14 foot room, with 90% of the belongings (that I kept) stored in an empty garage, miles away. Like my literary hero, I see this as the beginning of an entirely different life path, a new way to live. For the first time in my adult life, I do not have my name on a lease; I’ve moved into someone else’s place, one they’ve had for 26 years, and for once, my persona, my stuff, and my preferences do not predominate.
Changing residences begins the third book of In Search of Lost Time, in which the narrator leaves Swann’s Way behind, and enters The Guermantes Way— when he and his family move into the Hotel des Guermantes. To clarify, the “Hotel” is a grand, multi-family complex, where the family acquires a flat in one wing, built around a courtyard; one of the residents is Oriane, the Duchess de Guermantes, about whom our narrator has long had fantasies of romantic medieval pageantry, imaginings that began in childhood, with a song about the Guermantes and the magic lantern, of painted glass panels that moved, to tell their tale in pictures. He’ll go to great lengths to make her acquaintance and, before too long, inveigle his way into her salon.
I have left behind the NOPA Way, and gone back, after years of wishing, to the North Beach Way, where I grew up among the Italians and the Beat poets, who had skyrocketed to international stardom. Allen Ginsburg, pointing to a monolith of the financial district and calling out the encroaching demons of the corporate world, was one of the first warnings to infiltrate my childhood innocence, preparing me for the inevitable Corporate Way of America.
For years, in the magnificent, dilapidated old Western Addition flat, 1907 Golden Gate, I told the friends of the NOPA Way about how much I loved living in my old neighborhood. Slowly, many of them found ways to move there themselves, leaving me behind, with the massive amounts of family archives, business archives, the paper evidence of a long writing career, and the huge and fantastic collections of art and books. And now I’ve joined them, returned to my roots, with a lot less stuff to dust.
Like the narrator of In Search, I didn’t have an option about moving. His family sought another place when his grandmother’s health was failing and they needed a healthier environment. In my case, I needed to escape from a housemate having a psychotic break under lockdown. What was a challenge—replacing a cheap, rent controlled apartment I’d had for nearly 17 years—was also an opportunity.
There are two extremes reactions to moving, as reflected in the attitudes of the narrator and Francoise, the chef and housekeeper for his family: welcome or dread. Francoise was “finding it as hard to assimilate the new as I found it easy to abandon the old,” the narrator tells us, on the first page of Book III. But for him, it meant access to aristocratic environs he hoped to enter; for her, it demanded re-establishing the respect she had built among the community in which they’d lived.
Proust and I both have a lot to say about moving, which will be more fully explored in Proust Said That #11, the After Times issue.