The sun was coming up over the horizon as my plane came in for a landing – over Rome, because Alitalia had been the cheapest way to get back from New York to Amsterdam. I had some time to kill before my next flight, so I found the one open coffee bar and stood with the few half-drowsy morning travellers and ordered a cappucino and the Italian equivalent of a brioche. Everything was so ridiculously cheap (even at the airport) and equally delicious, and I spent a moment fantasizing about an exotic future life in this most exotic (to me) of European capitals, but I knew it was just that –a fantasy– because, despite the old saw about all roads leading to it, Rome would never, I knew, be my home.
The night that I left Harrisburg for New York, on the first leg of my trans-Atlantic travels, someone posted on my Facebook: “Have a safe trip home!” It felt like a curious choice of words: after all, hadn’t I spent the past month at home for a visit? All too familiar with the tropes of cultural appropriation, I was wary of calling Holland “home” – of becoming one of those bores who compare everything (negatively) to some imagined “continental” standard, sprinkle their sentences with a smattering of foreign phrases, and inevitably turn every discussion of the health care debate towards a smug analysis of America’s sundry failures vis the European socialist tradition (though I do all these things). You could stick clogs on my feet and a bicycle between my legs but this wouldn’t, I knew, make me magically Dutch.
And yet, slipping back into my life here as comfortably as one puts on, say, a pair of well-worn pajama bottoms, yesterday, I had cause to question. (Question what? Myself?) Perhaps it was just the whirlwind nature of my séjour in the States, rushing around trying to cram everyone and everything into a short visit, but I had found the transition harder going that direction. Coming back, I felt the luxury of time–of stretching slowly to fill this life I had left behind for a little while, and which I now could take up at my leisure. And somewhere –as I unpacked my bags, curled up for a quick nap, then texted my housemate to see when he’d be home for dinner– somewhere it occurred to me that this was, indeed, my life. This is where I had my routines, my daily class and work and social schedules, where I had my time and energy invested, where I had… my home.
And it struck me: that perhaps to make Holland my home I didn’t need to transform into a Dutchman, as a swan transforms into a princess at the brush of a kiss or on the stroke of midnight. Perhaps, after all, nothing needed to change (although we are of course always changing). Perhaps I did not need to “become” anything. Perhaps home is, literally, what we make of it, and having made my place here I could stay who and what I was: an American (among other things) living a life in Leiden.
“Home is where the heart is,” they say, but I have my heart in many places– scattered across two continents and in an abundance of bodies dwelling. But my mother has her own, transformed version of the adage, which as far as I know is her own: “when your heart is no stranger to you,” she says, “the whole world can be your home.” Between these two sayings there is (literally) a world of difference: in one home depends upon the heart, in the other the heart becomes at-home-in-the-world.
Here in Holland the world is coated in a dusting of snow, and ice glazes across the edges of canals. It is impossibly beautiful. And I am thinking, after all, that perhaps my friend’s words were right.
LOVE had read the title of this work. “’Tis war,” said he, “I see ’tis war that’s now declared against me.” O, Cupid, do not so accuse thy poet; do not so accuse me, who so oft beneath thy sway have carried the standards thou didst give into my care. No Diomede am I by whom thy mother was wounded when the steeds of Mars bore her, all. bleeding, to her skyey home. Other youths oft burn with a languid flame; but I have always loved; and wouldst thou know what I am doing at this moment? Why, I am loving still! Nay, more than that: I have taught unto others the art of winning thy favours; I have shown how the promptings of blind passion should give place to the dictates of reason. Ah, no; none shall behold me going back upon my lessons, betraying thee, sweet child, recanting all that I have sung, and so destroying the work of my own hands.
To all my loves in America: our time was far too short. But your heart is no stranger to me, wherever my feet may go.