In mid-August, with the help of my friend Jess and her van, I moved into my new apartment. Although, calling it new would be a stretch — both of reality and imagination. Stepping inside is like stepping back in time: the floors, hailing the 50s, are made of chipped stones called graniglia, a poor man’s version of the artisan terrazzo alla Veneziana. The apartment was empty for a year or two. It was like it had been waiting for me.
My kitchen boasts a solid, wooden credenza — the staple item in any nonna’s (grandma’s) house, my Italian friends insist. Every lamp is swaddled in a crocheted lampshade and initially, I had just a few forks but a full set of Porcelain dishes. To top it all off, my mattress is made out of horse hair. I try not to think about that…
But despite its old school look and feel, it’s my grandma apartment. Also despite the fact that something is constantly broken; last week it was a leak under the sink. A few days ago, the kitchen ceiling started dripping above the window. Not to mention there’s always something unexplainable going on, like how just plugging the stove in kills all the lights.
I think it boils down to the fact that, for the first time in seventeen years, I've got my own space. If there are dishes in the sink, they're mine. I can walk around in my underwear singing senseless but addictive Taylor Swift songs at the top of my lungs. And I have oodles of room to create, write and finally just enjoy life in Italy.
After Jess and I finished shuffling my belongings (and four bikes) inside, we headed into centro for our reward: spritzes. Over our neon orange beverages, Jess asked, “So, how many times have you moved?”
After a couple of minutes of tallying I said, “This was my twenty-eighth move.” Jess — a fellow American married to an Italian with a penchant for bike rides and the punk rock scene — didn’t even blink an eye.
Blame it on the misfit Puritans who sailed the ocean blue to start over. Or on America’s famous melting pot which by its nature demands the pulling up of roots. Either way, Americans tend to move around like seed pods in a breeze.
Meanwhile in Italy, the job situation is dire — particularly in the south, where it’s common to move north for work. But after that point (and aside from that purpose) Italians generally stay put. This is quite evident in Romagna, where many people live on the same street they grew up on. Or in the same house they were born in, and their parents, too and their grandparents… that’s why my Italian friend Marco was stunned when he heard I’d moved twenty-eight times.
“I can’t imagine moving around that much,” he said. “I don’t think I’d like it.” He was stirring sugar into his cappuccino with as much care as a gardener trimming an award-winning rose. “Where do you consider your home now?”
This question is a recurring one, also amongst my friends who are equal parts Italian and foreign. The latter half (and the traveled Italians) know moving about your own country is one thing. But spiriting yourself across the ocean to live in a completely diverse culture and country is a whole other monster.
Suddenly, you meld into this new version of yourself that’s neither — in my case — American or Italian. Then, when you discover yourself thriving in this wonderful, confusing limbo the concept of “home” becomes even more fluid.
“Home” gets challenged again by our current era, as so many people either choose or are forced to live somewhere other than where they were born. The reasons may be diverse, from escaping war to following the river of exploration like I did. But here we are, transplanted. Even as the borders close tighter than an angry fist.
I can’t tell you where my home is now and most of the time, I’m not even sure why nailing it down is such a big deal. Maybe my desire to understand the emotional and physical concept of home is natural. After all, as a human I am part of nature — another animal searching for a nest, den or burrow.
Then again, most animals — and much of nature in general — are on the move. Just glance at the sky where the rondine (swallows) flit about, barely touching land. Find a wasp’s nest, built for the season and then abandoned. Or spot the fins of a migrating orca whale. Some wander nearly 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) into tropical waters from Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.
Back in my own impermanent burrow, I start up a pot of water to boil on my single burner camp stove. In the granny apartment, gas is still more elusive than New Mexico’s prehistoric Gila Monster. With my tea, I settle in my striped blue and white chair by the window, cracking a well-loved copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.”
Although it was published in 1923 by a Syrian poet, philosopher and artist who wrote numerous works, “The Prophet” stands out. The world became enamored of the slim book for its beautiful prose and universal truths. Inside, Gibran touches on any number of topics — from love to work to good and evil. One of my favorite sections, incidentally, is “On Houses.”
Here, Gibran asserts that our house is much more than four walls and all of the belongings contained within them. He goes so far as to say that too much creature comfort (specifically the incessant desire for it) “murders the passion of the soul and then walks grinning in the funeral.”
A bit extreme, perhaps, but I get it. Especially when I read the next line where he writes that some of us, "children of space, you restless in rest, shall not be trapped or tamed." If I understand Gibran correctly, "home" comes closer to what nature may have intended: supportive but expansive.
This resonates with me, a home that stretches to anywhere the wind can reach. Of course we must have our basic needs met, of food, shelter and water; we can’t live on sunshine and the occasional mist like an air plant. But to approach the world in this way — as a boundless, welcoming place — is marvelous. It contradicts the idea that the world is something we should fear.
Simpler yet, home can be a good book, a big hug, a glowing fire, a certain smell like the one after the rain or a moth-eaten sweater that used to be grandpa’s. T.S. Eliot says it’s “where one starts from.” Robert Frost suggests, “Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Author Dodinsky believes “wherever dreams dwell, the heart calls it home.”
For me, author Dorinsky’s definition may hit closest to home (pun intended). My dreams reside in a granny apartment that smells a bit like the description of a complex red wine: musky, with a hint of stale wool. And at the finish, a thick dusting of hope.