‘You must go to the City of Emeralds’

Burj Khalifa can be seen from 95km away

So, a few weeks ago, the kids and I were at Mall of the Emirates. They had a half day of school, my husband was out of the country, and in an act of benevolent desperation, I agreed to take them to the mall (we’ve already firmly established, I think, my opinions about malls in general, and MOE is the superlative form of “mall”) to browse Borders and have an early dinner at the Thai place.

Among the bargains we picked up from the cheapo bins was a Puffins Classics paperback of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

I had no idea–and believe me, I know how stupid that sounds–that I’d soon be reading an analog of my own experience that so tightly fits my (and our) feelings and struggles and challenges and triumphs, that I’d be struggling not to sob as I read, and then laughing at myself at the spectacle.

Nightly. Because it’s our bedtime reading. I like to read aloud to my kids, and they like to listen. We all wind down together this way, and bedtime is relaxed and ritualized, whether Baba’s in the house or on the road. This little bedtime ritual belongs to us.

I’d never read the book. I’ve seen the movie probably 30 times, figuring my age, the number of years I’ve been capable of watching TV and the number of years I’ve been in the U.S. when it was aired. I know the movie, love the movie. And I saw Wicked–at the Orpheum in San Francisco, actually, same day as finishing the San Francisco Marathon. Loved it. So you’d think I might have anticipated the themes, rolled my eyes and put the book back in the bin. But, I didn’t.

And for some reason, I put it together with the Halloween theme, most likely because they’re pretty common costumes. So, we’re reading it now. As a matter of fact, just last night, Dorothy missed her chance to catch the balloon across the desert with Oz, because she couldn’t find Toto, and the ropes broke and he floated away without her. Ahead of her still lie a battle with fighting trees, a city made of china, and Quadlings, if she is indeed to make her way back to Kansas to see Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.

So last night, we watched in amazement as Oz filled the Scarecrow’s head with pins and needles and bran, and then handed over the control of the Emerald City to him. And how he poured the Lion a drink and called it courage. How the people of the Emerald City thought fondly of Oz and appreciated the Scarecrow as their new ruler, since they so trusted Oz–who’d lied to them the whole time:

Oz was always our friend. When he was here he built for us this beautiful Emerald City, and now he is gone he has left the wise Scarecrow to rule over us.

The Scarecrow was now the ruler of the Emerald City, and although he was not a wizard the people were proud of him. ‘For,’ they said, ‘there is not another city in all the world that is ruled by a stuffed man.’ And, so far as they knew, they were quite right.

Ahem.

So, while we don’t have magic silver shoes or a golden cap, and there’s no one-eyed Wicked Witch of the West sending Winged Monkeys to carry us to her castle where she might make slaves of us, we do face daily little checks on our wisdom, our courage and our ability to remain open-hearted and tender toward others, especially in the face of an often cold-hearted urban life. We do try to keep to the outer rings of society–among the Munchkins, if you will–because it is out here where we find friendly, helpful and kind people. And we know, even when we are moving within the inner circles, closer to the glittering city of jewels, that we can always call upon the field mice as our friends and witnesses. And you’ll know the field mice when you see them: they will be working earnestly and with quiet dignity at difficult and under-appreciated jobs, and can be quite strong in great numbers.

And on the road, there are a number of wondrous things to see. Unbelievable things. Not Fighting Trees or Kalidahs or Quadlings, but the strange events of a rapidly evolving Universe, all going on around us. From the vantage of our little floating bubble, we are afforded a near-miraculous view of multiple sides to every event, everyone’s bias and backstory. And here, we can coexist with characters who hail from those mysterious places held so dark and vilified in our otherwise Western minds. And as varied and complex as our viewpoints may be, it is especially in a place like this where we can all find agreement in one thing: indeed, there is no place like home.

Of course, in the meantime, there is this important journey, and we’re all in the middle of it, earning our brains and our hearts and our courage.

 

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3 responses to “‘You must go to the City of Emeralds’

  • bcastleton

    Jo,

    Astonishing! This is a classic tale about a classic tale in relation to a classic situation. I encourage you to look at My Turn, at the back of Newsweek or Time magazine and see how well a slight rewrite would fit perfectly on that page. The resonating elements are: the naturalness of the occurrence, the family feature, and the traveler/expat ingredient. In addition, although perhaps unintentionally, it points to the distinctions between “free” and “free”. This is a wonderful beginning to what could be an essay read by millions.

  • Alia Swingle

    Hi, I read this one and the last one. Here is what I am feeling right now:
    1: I want to hold your hand and smack anyone that bothers you.
    2: I love the wizard of Oz and wish my kids would just settle down together so I could read to them!

  • Rachel

    Totally off topic, but I think your FB account was hacked, unless you’re posting at about 4am Dubai time.

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