Friday, April 5, 2013

Home is where the heart is...but where's your heart?

Two years ago, I spent a month traveling through western Europe visiting old friends.  The purpose of the trip was to re-establish myself in - and, perhaps, move back to - the city that I considered to be my home town, Berlin, the place where I'd grown up, the place of all of my adolescent memories, the place of so many of my firsts (first kiss, first boyfriend, first job, ....).  The bitter irony of that homecoming was, however, that I didn't feel at home there.  Berlin was strange (and even slightly hostile) to me and I was a stranger, not a local girl coming home.  I don't look "German" and while I'm fluent (and near accent free) in the language, my confidence was shot and I stumbled when communicating.  Add to that my unfamiliarity with the new layout of the city and it makes sense that I wasn't accepted as a "native".  Fair enough.  But that left me confused and lost, identity-wise.  So I left and went off to visit friends in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Munich, and Barcelona all the while wondering what it meant not to have a home town, not to have a place where I felt, looked and sounded like a local.  (As much as I love NYC, not a week goes by that I'm not asked where I'm from because, somehow, I don't seem American to people.  Hell, three years into a past relationship, my then boyfriend asked about my immigration status! I have American citizenship, speak fluently with no accent, live the culture completely, yet still someone that close to me thought I was a foreigner!)  Citizen of the world?  Ok, but everyone wants one place where they blend in - at least, I do! A place where people can pronounce my name.  A place where I'm not treated differently.  A place where my "story" doesn't have to be explained.

On the way to Barcelona, I had a day-long layover in Paris.  Because money was tight (strong Euro, weak Dollar - ugh!) and I felt like I'd already seen Paris (I lived there in college), I wasn't interested in exploring the city.  I planned to wile away the hours reading while waiting for the night train to Barcelona.  But a strange thing happened.  From the second my foot touched the ground in Paris, I felt a sensation I'd expected to feel in Berlin.  HOME.  And all day long, I was mistaken for a Parisian.  My rusty french was gone and in its place was a fluid, confident speech pattern.  I was completely at ease; just being there felt so natural.  But it didn't make sense.  I dismissed the whole thing as an aberration and went on to Barcelona without giving it a second thought.  A week later, back in Paris for a similar layover, though, the same thing happened.  Paris felt like home and accepted me with a familiarity that no other city had.  You'd think that would be welcome news, but it wasn't.  Paris?! Hell no.  First of all, it's too damned expensive!  One of the beautiful things about Berlin is that it's still an affordable place to live.  Rebuilding a life there would be easy on my wallet.  Life in Paris is nearly as pricey as life in NYC - exactly what I was trying to escape!  Secondly, what a cliche!  Yuck.  I did NOT want to be another one of those naive people blinded by the romantic of the idea of Paris.  Lastly, I was still hurt by the Berlin thing...  I got the hell out of Paris that night, returned to Berlin and tried again - but the result was the same, Berlin was not my home.  So it was back to NYC for me.  And I tried to forget Paris.

Fast forward two years...  Extraordinary circumstances have put me in a position to move to Paris this summer.  And this time around, I'm not resisting.  I would NEVER have expected my life would take this turn, but I'm grateful.  Of course, home is wherever you make it, but it's always nice to feel the energy of the place welcoming you back.  I'm going home.  Come June, I'll blog more about the details, but for now, I just wanted to share this little bit of the story...

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