From, to and back again

It’s been four weeks since I came back from Woods Hole. For the second time. I didn’t suffer from jetlag, had no problem switching lives again. Actually I didn’t switch lives, traveling back and forth is my life now; activities and appointments are planned across time zones. Packing my stuff, emptying my room and boarding the plane are just things I need to do in order to arrive in time for the next appointment. I know I’ll be tired, I know I will sleep on the first flight but not on the second one (or the other way round), I know I’ll go to bed early, fall asleep and wake up the next morning as if the whole crossing-the-ocean-thing hadn’t happened at all and I will just pick up life where I left it. That is what I did a few weeks ago and it is what I will do in another few weeks, when I’ll go back to Woods Hole for the winter. Easy travels. From, to and back again.

Home

Woods Hole feels like home now; I know a lot of people, have made a fair amount of friends, have my favorite spots when it comes to food, drinks and music. I have learned to enjoy everything the Cape has to offer in summertime (beaches, ponds, lobster, clams, diving, boats, barbecues, sun, storms, sports, parties…) and to foster a healthy hatred towards tourists and everything that characterizes them (strolling down the street in slow-mo, crossing the street without watching, taking up the whole width of the biking path at night, without lights…). In other words, I have become a real Woods Hole girl.

The older the summer gets, the less she flirts with the tourists; they start abandoning her and going back to their grim lives and she comes back to the people of Woods Hole, smiling sunrays like when she was young in June. And then the villagers come out of their labs and back from their field trips and enjoy the last days of summer the way they should be enjoyed: with food and drinks and music, taking the time, enjoying the sunset, sharing stories, making those days last a little longer.

Boston feels like home now; I know most big streets, know how to use the T to go from A to B, and know all the Starbucks places close to South Station (I don’t like Starbucks because of the coffee. I don’t like coffee. I like Starbucks because it has free internet and restrooms and can be found on virtually every street corner). When I walk through Boston (or Cambridge for that matter), I feel home. It’s in all the little things of daily life; I enjoy walking around in Boston to get food or visit friends or go out or just wander in a random manner. It is quite an entertaining city; the buildings are funny, very different in size, shape and color but it works. Watching other people go about their lives probably is my favorite pastime in Boston. Name it and I saw it: men, women, kids, alone, together, big groups, small groups, groups of tourists (free-ranging or crammed in buses), young, old, colorful, suited up, dressed down, dresses, skirts, weird shirts, high heels, socks in sandals (although I tend to forget those as fast as I can), eating, drinking, on the phone, texting, taking pictures, reading a book, laughing, thinking, going somewhere or coming back from some place (yes, it is possible to tell the difference!), waiting for someone, being late for an appointment, broke, broken, fixed, limping, jogging, athletic, out of shape, fat, tall, blond, with or without beard, handsome, ugly… But always beautiful.

In Boston, I have experienced moments of grace like the ones I tried to explain last winter (see this post of last winter). I am grounded, in the moment, my feet are solidly anchored to the ground and I’m aware of everything and everyone around me. Yet I am so light and I swear I can fly!

“Summertime / And the livin’ is easy / Fish are jumpin’ / And the cotton is high” (Summertime, George Gershwin).

Home

Being back in Europe comes as a welcome break after a busy summer in Woods Hole. My parents got me at the airport and we bought some food for me and an apple for Iloa. Miraculously, all of my luggage fit in the car (some cars really come with a “stretch” option) and there was even some room left for me to sit!

Iloa is my big, hairy partner in crime and she would do anything for an apple. It was heart-warming to see that, after three months apart, she still recognized me and came to me when I called her. She also remembered all our tricks (kiss, smile…) and was happy to show them off in exchange for an apple. Quite a performance for an animal with a relatively small brain (the size of an orange maybe)! Clearly, brain size doesn’t matter when it comes to remembering loved ones.

Beside hanging out with my horse, I’ve spent the past weeks seeing friends and family, working a bit, getting miscellaneous tasks done (paperwork, throwing stuff away, cleaning the fish tank, fixing my bike) and filling myself up with all the food I have been missing this summer. A survey done by a TV channel for Dutch people living abroad has shown that Dutch expats miss Dutch food most, even more than family and friends. My first (and only) reaction: “duh! I can skype with my family and friends. I can’t skype with my Mona pudding!” So there I am, having lengthy conversations with my Mona pudding. And with my “patatje met”. And hopefully soon with my “Unox rookworst”.

Home?

As I’m writing these lines, I’m slowly preparing to head back to Woods Hole for the winter. I already have found a home, a very cute little cottage on the waterside, with a view over the harbor at sunset. The landlady kept saying “it’s perfect for you” and she wasn’t lying.

Moving back and forth between Europe and the United States over the past year has made me ask myself: what is home? Is it an actual place, defined by its walls and furniture? Is home defined by the people I know? Is home, as some people like to say, where the heart is? Should home be made of material things or is it about the feeling of belonging somewhere? Can home be in oneself? Can you take home with you? Judging by the weight of my luggage, my answer to this last one should be a firm ‘yes!’; unfortunately, I find that answer very unsatisfying.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary provides some answers. Home is:

  1. One’s place of residence (tough one)
  2. The social unit formed by a family living together (define family… do friends count as well?)
  3. A familiar or usual setting (the supermarket?)
  4. A place of origin (people with mixed roots, please raise your hand)
  5. An establishment providing residence and care for people with special needs (the lab? For my scientific needs?)
  6. The objective in various games (aaaaaaaaand home run!)

Six official definitions of home and not one is satisfying enough. Yes, I do feel home when I open the door of my room in Wageningen and see the furniture I’ve had for the past few years. Yes, I do feel home when I walk through the garden in Brussels. Yes, I do feel home when I’m riding my bike to the Stop&Shop or Grumpy’s or Albert Heijn. Yes, I do feel home when I’m at a party with friends, no matter where that party takes place. Yes, I do feel home when I’m walking through Zwolle (where I was born), Paramaribo (paternal roots) or Paris (maternal ones). Yes, I do feel home when I walk down the hall of the zoology lab in Wageningen, even now, after the lab has moved to a newer building I never actually sat in. And I also feel home when I go to my horse, when I hear certain songs, when I smell certain scents or eat certain foods. I feel at home in certain places I don’t know and there are places I know well but don’t feel home at. So what is home?

Could it also be possible that home has different degrees or components? There are moments when you just know: “this is home!” or “I’m home!”; and there are moments when it “feels like home” or “is a little bit like home”. Could we say that something that is “a little bit like home” is worth a third (or a fourth, or 28%) of home? And if we could quantify everything that makes home home, including the people, feelings, songs and so on, we might discover that it’s not about how many houses, belongings or friends one has, and that someone who owns many houses and things maybe doesn’t have a home.

That being said, I would say that I feel blessed having so many homes. It’s such a good feeling when you know that, after a long flight and a bus ride, a friendly face will be waiting for you, welcome you back and bring you home.

To be continued…

This is the first post after almost nine months of silence and I’m aware that not all of you have had personal updates from me since January and some of you are dying to know more about my international adventures. More posts, covering the start of 2012 up to now, are on their way and I hope to post them before going back to Woods Hole. Meanwhile, if you could find an answer to the question “what is home?”, that would be much appreciated.

 

 

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  9. Sylvia says:

    Heeee, zag via fb deze blog, superleuk beschreven! Wat heftig dat je deze winter alweer teruggaat joh! En geniaal van het patatje met, mona pudding en unox worst, ik herken het idd helemaal! (wat dacht je van oude kaas, paprika chips, stamppot, stroopwafels, kroket, oke zo kan ik nog wel even doorgaan) Maar goed om te horen dat je je overal thuis voelt, beter reizen met 3 homes dan dat je je nergens meer home voelt! 😉 Succes met alles Julia! xx Sylvia.

  10. Gaston says:

    Nice blog, once again. Does make one wonder: “What’s next?”
    Instead of trying to define the term ‘home’, what about this? For someone who hasn’t defined ‘home’ (yet), there is no homesickness… and no homelessness…
    Since the term ‘home’ has a different meaning to everyone, it might well be less meaning or even meaningless to some… Until you find out what it means to you, you might as well keep travelling 😀
    Don’t worry though, it WILL come to you!!!

  11. juliae says:

    Haha! Cette histoire-la est prevue pour un peu plus tard 🙂

  12. Clea says:

    In the everything the Cape has to offer in summertime, I believe your forgot “my awesome little sister who can rap and dance like any human, animal or vegetal being I have ever know” ! (envoi-moi la video de notre house party!) 🙂

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