Thursday, December 4, 2008


So where is home? Because wherever I am I want to get back there. An awful joke comes to mind:

I’m homesick.
What do you mean? This is your home!
I know, and I’m sick of it.
(boom boom)

And Osip Mandelstam, of whom Marina Tsvetayeva once wrote that wherever he was, from that place he always wanted to go home.

I carry the word itself like a talisman but I do not think it can be geographically located. Earlier this year when visiting Berlin, I went back to the village where I lived as a young child for nearly three years. I had not been there since I was six but I remembered it well enough to find my way to the house, the lake, the places where sweetshop and kindergarten once were. Of course there were changes, but not as many as one might have supposed given the length of time that has passed. This was the place, here was the ground beneath my feet, the dusty overlay of sand-like substance that I had almost forgotten. But the place itself was not what I carried, what lived in me for all the years since I left, and the reason it lived in me was not because it was happy and secure, for it was neither of those things: my mother was, I think, very depressed, unreconciled to events from her own childhood, her acting career on hold, probably missing the quasi-bohemian life in London and childcare really was not her thing, so local girls were employed to do the job.

After the German kindergarten I went to a school for children of the British military that lived in the area (my dad was actually an actor with the Berliner Ensemble but that didn’t matter). I can’t quite remember how I learned to read, but I know I was doing it before I properly learned at school and I read in both languages. The real substance of my life was in the imagination. This doesn’t mean that I was always dreaming up some story or other as an alternative to real life. I developed a kind of double vision: there was the mundane world with its catalogue of daily trials, seasonal festivals and occasional treats and there was the magical world of the life that lay just beneath the surface, and in this dimension the natural world was powerfully present. What breathed in midwinter from the snow, the evergreen, the candle-lit procession of us children singing lantern songs at Martinmas was the same presence that hovered over the star-money child in the Grimm’s fairy tale and there was a perpetual unfolding of untold riches which I can identify retrospectively – for the child who was me was too deeply occupied with living inside the story to construct a narrative. So my return to the village revealed no more than the outer husk. It was like dropping a stone into what one thinks is a deep well, but all that comes back is an unresonating clunk because the well is elsewhere – here, actually.

My parents both left their country of birth as refugees – my father came with his family but my mother never saw her father again because he died in a concentration camp. So there could never be a home-coming for her. And neither would England, or anywhere be home either. She still speaks about the English as though we are not that, and it’s true that we are not. But we are not anything else either. The word homeless has resonance for me and is in itself a kind of home My father said that home was wherever he hung his hat.

Enough for today I think.


Zhoen said...

Home is such a difficult idea, layers upon layers. A sense of history and welcome and belonging. I have trouble with that as well.

Kahless said...

Must have been hard for all of you; your grandfather dying in a concentration camp.

Reading the Signs said...

Zhoen, I think it's probably a difficult idea for many - when one really 'homes in' on it. But a rich seam nevertheless.

Kahless, it's an event that can't help but resonate down the generations. Part of who and what we are, I suppose.

Anna MR said...

Hei Signs, lovely stuff as usual. It had me wondering about my own sense of homelessness and where that comes from. On the surface, I shouldn't really feel it - I live in the city of my birth, after all. But I did spend nearly a decade in the UK - a very "formative" decade, as a young adult, during which my children were born, and I, consequently, transformed from a daughter to a mother; although one of course always remains a daughter, too. And while my family was spared "immediate" war casualties (both grandfathers fought but lived through WWII), my father's family is from the Karelia which Finland lost, and that makes me a refugee's daughter - something I only ever touch upon, in my thoughts (and in one blog post only). I have great big resistance against it (my relationship with my father being rather fraught with this and that), but I do believe what you say about these experiences resonating through the generations, becoming the family's collective unconscious, if you like. The mere fact I don't explore it speaks reams.

Sorry to come here and talk about myself, though, when what you say is so very worthy of discussion. But this is what happens when I leave off the invisibility cloak - I become cloaked in insufferability. Oh dear. Sagour, however, sounds good and benign - a female sage, in French, mayhap?

Hugs from the North


Reading the Signs said...

You a refugee's daughter, Anna? Yes, this and the webbed toes and the rest - of course. I sometimes think it is not just the sins, but also the misfortunes of the fathers that are "visited on the children." And how could it be otherwise?

Good to "see" you sans cloak!


Anna MR said...

It couldn't be otherwise, no, you're right. I have a feeling this is another item for our Topic List, sees me dear.

expigh - I mean really. The insolence of the things


Kahless said...

Re: your comment on my blog
I thought you'd get one through the post. I hope I didnt ruin the surprise for you.

Cusp is wonderful!

btw I am too tired to answer all my comments on my blog tonight. So I hope you dont mind me answering you here. I just didnt want it to look like I was ignoring all the commentators on my blog if I only answered you.

Reading the Signs said...

Didn't spoil it at all, K. Made it even nicer to get one for myself, having seen it at yours. Lucky us.

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