All four of my grandparents died in different countries. All four of them died in different countries than where they spent their childhood. My grandfathers were great travelers and adventurers, trekking through jungles, flying small planes over North Africa, setting up new homes in Big Sur, California and Tanzania. I did not know my grandfathers well but my grandmothers were also firm believers in the magic and power of place. My maternal grandmother lost her country and her childhood home. A border was moved and names and language changed. When she took us back there decades later she knelt in the wheat fields and kissed the soil. This is the place my mother was born and the only other place I’ve been where pine forests and dunes dance to the sea, just like Oregon where I grew up. Echoes of ancestral breezes and berries and mushroom hunting.
My paternal grandmother grew up in the US-occupied Philippines with a snake they kept in the attic, only let out at night to roam the house and eat the rats. She loved her adopted Hudson River Valley so much that she wrote a book about the place and its lore. All four of them chose places to live in because of a strong feeling for the place, for its beauty, for its history. And none of them were from the places where they eventually made their homes, far, far away from any visible roots.
I was so influenced by all of this that my only published book is about people who traveled to find themselves. And now, sitting in the town made rich by Airbus, I hear stories of planes that cannot be delivered or stored because there simply is no room and the sky is empty of travel. The borders will still be closed but starting on Monday we can travel around France.
When I wrote my book I bemoaned the demystifying of the world. We no longer need paper maps or stamps to send letters to hotels in a foreign language or traveler’s checks. One phone and I can see anywhere I am in the world. But now, I wonder, travel may change. Perhaps the world will become more mysterious as we long for it, as we reconsider air travel and displacement.
Some people find their place in the world and dig in, make it a home forever, and embrace the pleasures they have created in their material surroundings. I don’t think I will ever be that person. La bougeotte. Restlessness. The great joys of being from somewhere else. A non-committal relationship with objects.
Yesterday I talked with a friend who is ready for a change. This town has become too easy. And in the fall I will go back to a town and a job completely changed from when I left. I remember leaving my job, husband and first house in New York. I was on the plane flying across the country to a completely unknown life. I had my little baby on my lap and my kitty cat at my feet and I thought, yep, I feel like myself again. Goodbye matching living room furniture, goodbye car, goodbye pots and pans.
We can come home to ourselves while moving about the world. I am looking forward to continuing this initiation home through all of the places I have had the immense luxury and privilege to inhabit.