Updated: Jan 13
And once again, it is time to move. There is a sentence, somewhere in Cioran’s work, that has stuck with me since my early twenties: “On n'habite pas un pays, on habite une langue. Une patrie, c'est cela et rien d'autre.”
When I moved to England from California, in 2013, it was by utter chance. I had spent the previous years in some amazing places, with great people, and suddenly here I was, dampness inside and around me, gray all above me.
Strangely, I had never given even a thought to what England would look, feel or sound like. I didn’t know what to expect. My English was very tentative, and in a weird mix of Italian, French and American accents. It took me many months to warm up to the language, the people, the culture of this old and uniquely modern country. Little did I know that I would grow to love this place and its people so fondly. That this language would become my language, and that, 10 years later, I would find myself in the opposite predicament: having forgotten what it feels like to not live in the South West of England.
I don’t believe in the past more than in any other story, so I have little to no appreciation for such things as borders, nations, countries, their institutions and their history. However, this doesn’t stop me from being hugely grateful to the people and the culture of this place. Here I get to play, work, rest and learn, every day, with Flavia and our loving quirky little family, surrounded by the most amazing landscapes. Here I meet curious, independent, honest, funny people on a daily basis. Here I am given respect, attention, care, friendship to an extent that I hardly deserve. Here everything and everyone around motivates me to give myself entirely and relentlessly to my work in a way that can benefit the whole.
Here I have learned something new every day for the last 10 years: playing with the kids and listening to the elderly, observing the forest and staring at the sea, studying electronics and making sense of the local architecture, teaching in private and state schools and hiking on Dartmoor, playing tennis, growing carrots and eating venison; chatting with colleagues and neighbours, watching wildlife and training Roger, laughing at a friend's joke and grieving for somebody who's no more; building something new with Flavia and destroying something old within myself, celebrating the joy, amazement, mystery and saltiness of being alive.
Lots of things come together at this time, in a flurry of feelings: sadness, melancholy, tiredness, uncertainty, excitement, and that strange feeling that you get when you know you're going to miss your friends. And this longing, longing for a home. Yes, this, more than anything: this longing. One of my favourite words ever. Untranslatable like so many other words in this amazingly rich language: sharp like a sword and versatile like a pocket knife.
I’ve moved house more than 10 times in the last 15 years. To quote a beautiful song: I’m just an animal looking for a home. It is said that the foxes of the land have a home in their dens, and the birds of the sky have a home in their nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. Cioran is right, I tell myself, once again. On n’habite qu’une langue, rien d’autre. So surely a language is a good start.
Having spent most of my life on physical or imaginary islands, I have a very limited understanding of what a people is. So I don’t know what to expect from Italy, now that I will be returning there after so many years. I look forward to re-learning my mother tongue and getting to grips with the cultural oddities of Florence. I look forward to being surprised. I look forward to the unexpected, as usual.
After all, I’m just an animal, looking for a home.