poetics of life, travel notes

The question of home.


Travel makes so keenly apparent how tenuous are the binds that hold us together. Families holding onto each other with invisible strings made of nothing but care and blind tenacity, trying to stay still while everything else is changing. We are so naked while we transit: no address, no furniture, no proof of who we are and only a flimsy permit to be where we are, no web of people to say: yes, she is herself, we have gone to school together and her mother cooks good chicken. We are nothing but flesh and thoughts, a speck of life.

I have always loved to travel, and I had, over the years, learnt the craft of bringing out the most flavour from travel. There is a set of skills there: being in the moment, even when overwhelming, even when extremely slow; seeing people for who they are; responding to people as they are, without muffling them with your own narrative; taking in the heat and the cold; letting it all seep through you like moonlight. The art of travel is the art of letting go of yourself, letting your own rhythm and temperature and structure fade away, letting other rhythms take over you. Travel, like a good rave, is disappearance.

And I travelled too much in 2015. I became a very small speck.

There were some important conversations. Bea said: you are so much like Bruce Chatwin. I said: thank you (because I loved Bruce Chatwin). She said: I don’t mean it in a good way.

Ana couldn’t believe when I told her I’m very homey. She laughed. But I am, and I knew that even in that kitchen, which belonged to neither of us.

Home is what allows us to travel. One exists in contrast to the other: the movement and the stasis, the point of departure and arrival, and the path and time between. Not for nothing do the traditional nomads move along structured paths. They don’t wander aimlessly in all directions: they return and revisit the same places. Being able to return is important. Being able to rest is important. Small things, even: being able to buy something and put it down somewhere is important. I had too little home in 2015; I had frightfully too little home. Strings between me and everything were tearing, and I couldn’t stop them, I could just watch them go, with a slow accumulation of horror.

After a while, travel becomes an experiment in which home breaks down to single elements. What is home becomes a tangible question. Is home a bed, a tent, a chair placed in a square? If home is a roofed structure, how permanent must it be? Is home a family, a partner, a friend? One friend, three, five, ten, how old do these friendships need to be? Is home one’s books? Is home a washing machine and a laundry line? Is it possible, I wondered for a long time, that home is an equipped kitchen, and a dining table, around which these ten friends can sit while I cook a single meal?

I once said: home is where people are happy to see you return. This turns out to be incorrect: there were many places where people were happy to see me, and none were home. Someone said: home is wherever they cannot turn you away from, and this is more accurate, but not entirely true, because our right to squat is a sum of lines of inheritance and charity, and it is not the sum of inheritance and charity that makes home.

Home, I think now, may be whatever matter we weave around us (we have woven around ourselves, or has been woven around us) to feel like we are more than a speck of bare life. Because that truth is too hard to handle.

Home may be something we carry inside us, if we’re big and strong. I have been that home to others. But only so much. I think now that home, like peace, like rest, is a resource we need to constantly replenish, otherwise we run out of home, like we run out of breath.

Bruce Chatwin’s wife Elizabeth remained his home throughout, even as he gallivanted around the world, sleeping with men, catching AIDS – because how could she not? How could this perpetual traveller travel without her, not staying at home, but being the home? She took care of sheep, and was, by all accounts, happy. Unhappy people cannot be a home.

For me, for four long years, home was a person. And then, for a while, home was nothing more than a bottle of Marseille soap. And now I have a dining table again, and a kitchen equipped enough to cook for the friends that can sit around that table. How strange that that’s enough.


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