Distancing #2: Home Acres


This one’s easy: mid-afternoon at a pool and restaurant-bar in Siem Reap. I assume it was a hotel too, one of those French colonial jobs, but the pool was all we cared about. It was a hot and listless day that hadn’t yet had one of the sudden nonchalant downpours that come and go during that season. I say “that season” as though I spent more than a week there, but I spent exactly a week there, and was sullen and distant the whole time. Chris and Anya were putting me up and squiring me around the local expat scene, which felt empty and bloated at once. I mean no particular disrespect to any of the people I met there, who all seemed to mean well and not care about me but in a cheerful way. The rot seemed bigger than all of them, deeper down and since longer ago. We spent our evenings and then our late nights in bars and pubs and watering holes that didn’t even try to pretend to be trying to be authentic; I recognize a certain bracing honesty to this, looking back, but at the time I was unmoved, humorless. I was homesick, probably. I’d been traveling for two weeks out of five and I missed Kristina, Turtle, my real life. The local weed tasted like lentils. Everywhere we went we found burly Australians lecturing other burly Australians, Tool playing on the stereo, sunburned hedonists wearing elephant-patterned harem pants. I was about to turn thirty, and felt ragingly too old for all of it.

That day, my fourth or fifth, Chris took me on his scooter to go check out this pool. We still hadn’t found the easy rapport we’d shared since we were fourteen, but the tension had broken, like the heat after one of those storms, or we’d figured out how to ignore it. Going places during the day seemed to help, so here we were. We sat at the restaurant-bar for a spell—cocktail or fruit juice or afternoon brunch I no longer remember, but I feel very sure we spent seven American dollars total, an extravagance—and then repaired to the pool, where we idly splashed around for an hour or two. It was empty but for us and some pool noodles and two or three big green floaties that looked like the Kate Beaton pony but with antlers; there was an artificial waterfall mounted to a low wall with two eagle-winged bas-relief deities jutting out. It was the kind of serene worldly splendor that I usually assume is secretly propped up on someone else’s exploitation and misery, but I was tired of being mad at everything so yes, fine, it was perfect. The water washed away the day’s irritations, as it always does. Afterwards we lazed for another hour in the mottled shade of some tiki umbrellas, not talking, just existing in parallel. I don’t remember what Chris did, if I even knew then. I got out my phone and listened to Home Acres.

Should I run to you, sell my possessions too?

I don’t hate it but to me it has no value

Everything’s for sale, down to the nails

Take all the evidence that we ever lived here

And light it up

And disappear

I wouldn’t have thought to frame it this way at the time, but it’s an album about homesickness. About feeling caught between a here you can’t quite escape and a there that seems impossibly far off—and being lonely and sullen about it. Distant, doubly. It doesn’t sound like that’s what it’s about, per se; it’s too gentle, too thoughtful, too lilting. Aloha’s critical Achilles heel has always been that they’re unexcitable, well-behaved to a fault; even I once described them in a review as “a band that’s spent the last decade fighting a losing battle against forgettability.” But in the right light you see that that judgment is all wrong. Their songs can drag on or run together at times, but they also fidget and bristle with this fascinating, disciplined, combustible energy, exerting most of it to stay contained, to hold that emotive outburst at bay. (There’s a very pretty song on Home Acres called “Microviolence.”) It’s ragingly even-tempered, you might say, and I was learning that week, not for the first time, what an unrewarding way that is to be. Unsustainable, maybe, in the long term. But there are pockets in the world of oblique sunshine and cool water and something approaching silence, and eventually the scenery always changes.

— Daniel Levin Becker
Paris, day 36

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