Why Germantown? I am finally getting answers to questions about my father’s decisions that have always alluded me. When I started learning about his groundbreaking contributions I was shocked. This was certainly not the father I knew. What I absolutely did not expect was that it would take me on a journey back to my childhood.
Several months ago, I learned that my father and some of his classmates spent six months living in Germany before he returned to Paris. It was then that he switched from studying art to architecture. Thinking back, it made sense because I remember him telling me, many times, that he found the German people reliable and honest. He spoke often of his German friends, especially a woman named Helen. Auntie Helen, as I was instructed to call her, visited us several times in NYC and then, later, in New Jersey.
A week ago, as I was thinking about my father’s display in Singapore (if interested, you can read Jenn’s last blog on the Singapore Heritagefest), my mind wandered to random thoughts about our home in NYC. Rather than live in Chinatown, where the majority of Chinese immigrants lived in 1947, my father chose to reside in Upper East Side in Manhattan. Somehow, I always thought that it was because, as an intellectual, he had nothing in common with the entrepreneurs in Chinatown – an intellectual snob, so-to-speak.
Then I remembered the information about his time in Germany and his love for their people. A light bulb went on! That’s why he wanted to be in Germantown, a place that was familiar to him – shops, restaurants, architecture. Thinking back, I pictured the Art Deco buildings in the neighborhood, the German restaurants with smells of bratwurst and sauerkraut wafting onto the street, and the language that made him feel at home. Now it makes sense that he would have chosen something familiar, a time from his carefree years in Europe when his whole future lay before him.
An aside – I was so excited mentioning this aha moment to Jenn. She looked at me like I had two heads, then reminded me that we had actually had the exact same conversation right after the information came in. I looked at her blankly, getting the sense that this felt familiar, but actually not having any actual memory of our talk. I suppose this confirms that we do not connect the dots until we’re ready to do so. And, here I thought this was such an original connection. Actually, I think the connection went deeper, more about who he was as a person.
It further makes me realize how much the European influence at that particular stage impacted his life and forever remained a part of his psyche. Perhaps this is why I feel so pulled to live in Paris and to explore the other European countries where he grew to manhood.
I realize that the more I learn about the parts of him I never knew, I am also discovering the parts of me I never knew, those that came directly through him.
Gayook (Liou) Wong
Dear Gayook Wong,
I’m a Chinese student of art history in France and I learned the name of your father when I was doing a intern at Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine in Paris.
This entry especially reminds me something :
After returning to China, Your father published numerous articles talking about a term in Chinese which literally means “Fine-art architecture”. It’s normal that this term didn’t exist in Chinese before, but it’s totally not normal that “Architecture de beaux-art” is no even popular in French either. From other readings, I knew that there is a term of same meaning in another European language : Germany. IT is strange, or at least used to be for me.
Why would he use a Germany term while actually he was a French architecture student ? And after rending this fabulous entry, we can be sure that Germany people and art should have given him more influence than we thought, in life as in art creation.
We will be in Paris for the Art Deco Exhibit at Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine next month! We would love to meet you! Please let us know if you are in town the opening week 16 October.