Monday, January 21, 2013

(You can't) go home again

There were two summers where I had a job as a camp counselor for a traveling summer camp for high school students. We lived in one of those 55-seat air-conditioned passenger buses and about 35 hotels across seven weeks and the entire country.

On the first day, in Manhattan's Lower East Side, fresh on pickle juice and co-mingling introductory adolescent nerves, the head counselor told our group that we were standing on one of the last 15 cobblestone streets in America. He's a fantastic liar, of course, but it got the kids noticing how the texture of a street under one's feet changes the tone of a place. One needs different shoes to walk quickly on cobblestone. Sounds and speeds are different. One's impressions of a place are formed from the very ground up, and by the time we found cobblestone in Boston and Vermont and Cleveland and Chicago and San Francisco and well past 15 near the end of our summer in Philadelphia, the kids didn't bother to call him a liar anymore. They just switched out their flip-flops for sneakers. They learned that being in each different place requires a slightly different version of one's self.

I was thinking about the terroir of a place as we took a quick road trip this weekend for that funeral. Not in the wine sense, where vineyards of a similar climate and soil composition will yield specific regional flavors, but in giving liberty to the term to jump across genres: northern New Jersey looks like northern New Jersey. Brooklyn looks like Brooklyn and Pennsylvania looks like Pennsylvania. Jersey is all stonework bridges crossing overlapping streets abutting neighborhoods overgrown and unyielding. Brooklyn is eight languages (and some cobblestone), water views, and pockets more residential by volume than anything you'd find in Manhattan. Pennsylvania is rocky. New York's highways go east-west and cut their trees back 50 feet from the road. Maryland's highways go north-south and let the trees begin just past the shoulder.

The lovely husband and I have each lived away from our hometowns now longer than we ever lived in them, and going back to a same place of one's past isn't unlike going to a new place in one's present. The streets may bend the same way but the people who know you really know you best by a version of yourself you've long left behind. You play simultaneous translation to their memories and your current world. It takes different shoes. You have to walk mindfully.

And while it's comforting to know we'll always have a place in New York, it's not really where we think of home. Home is here, where I'm typing back in Maryland. I've traveled the country and good parts of the world and this is where I think of home.

(somewhere in New York, 11am-ish today)

(somewhere in Pennsylvania, 2pm-ish today)

(from our driveway in Maryland, 6pm-ish today)


This post was inspired by our book of the month, the mystery thriller novel The Expats by Chris Pavone. Kate Moore sheds happily sheds her old life become a stay at home mom when her husband takes a job in Europe. As she attempts to reinvent herself, she ends up chasing her evasive husband's secrets. Join From Left to Write on January 22 as we discuss The Expats. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. Pin It