Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Coming home

I've been going to London a lot recently. So much so that my Lovely Editor has taken to teasing me about it.

"Are you around this weekend?"

"No, I'm .. no. You'll laugh".

"Oh, a place where we both come from but one of us doesn't believe she's left, perchance?"

"Er, no! No. Um, Budapest. Yeah, that".

There have been perfectly (semi) legitimate reasons, though of course I'll take any excuse to go walk reverently around Marks & Spencer, stroking the cashmere mix jerseys and pondering Autograph ballet pumps, to see my friends and family.

Even so, on my last few trips an odd thing has started to happen. Well, it's on the way back, really. There's a moment - and it's not the view coming into Brussels on the train of flat fields giving way to the orange glow of the sodium lit streets, it's not getting off the train, jostling down the tiny narrow staircase with 200 people with wheely suitcases, and it sure as hell isn't the taxi queue (though that has improved massively in the ten years I've been coming here) - but there's a moment when my heart lifts. It's something to do with getting into some massively decrepit taxi with a driver who will either be completely taciturn or a bit nutso and setting off under the low, ugly railway bridge, with the view of the ever-so Martin Parr bus station to your right and the view of the very top of the illuminated dome of the Palais de Justice over to your left (not in itself a thing of great beauty, being entirely covered in scaffolding now and for all time past and present, I think, it's the Brussels Forth Bridge). Perhaps the driver is listening to some chronically awful French music radio station and he's certainly asking me which way he should go, and I am saying one of two things, depending on my mood, either:

"C'est franchement comme vous le sentez, vous êtes l'expert"
(you choose, you're the expert)


"Prenez plutôt l'Avenue Albert et l'Avenue Brugmann, ça roule bien à cette heure-ci".
(Take Albert and Brugmann, there's no traffic at this time of night)

Then I sit back and watch the strip of Portuguese cafés and cheap hotels give way to the tram dépôt my kids love to peep into, stuffed with sleeping yellow metal and we turn up the hill along Avenue du Roi with its grandiose, crumbling art deco townhouses and crammed corner shop alimentation générales, the open sweep of the Parc de Forest, and the more manicured maisons de maître beyond, then down the other side of the hill into my neighbourhood, which is a mix of all those things, with an added hint of cobbled provincial market town.

Something about that combination of things, the familiarity of the strangeness of it, the combination of home and not home, reminds me why I wanted to live here in the first place. Why I always wanted to leave the UK, get out as fast as I possibly could. At some point in the last couple of years the upheaval and the sadness, and missing London obscured that. The homesickness - and I have, I think, been very homesick, though it's for a home that doesn't really exist any more, because what I really want is a home where I can still arrange to meet my mother in Russell Square café and watch her, tiny and neat and laden with bags, crossing the grass, shaded by the plane trees, hurrying to meet me - hid the fact that here was actually becoming home.

I don't hold the map of Brussels in my head yet like I hold London, the streets of the centre, or the tube network etched, unshakeable, into my memory, but now I can fit the bits of the city together, it has a recognisable shape. And somewhere in that vague geography, I can just about see where I fit in.


Unknown said...

This is a truly lovely post.

Eireann said...

:) :) :)

my word is 'brabines'! that's 'cabins from brabant' as far as i can tell.

Anonymous said...

I have similar feelings about where I live, except I could never hope to express them so perfectly. What a gift of writing you have!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Waffle - you've earned this!

Rhia said...

I am actually crying, but in a good way. You have put into words exactly what I felt but couldnt describe about living abroad. Beautiful.

Now I have to wipe the tears away and actually do some work (seeing as I am at work!)

mountainear said...

That is so true - a beautifully expressed.

The Welsh have a word for it: 'Hiraeth' which I've heard described as which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe. And home can come to be some unlikely places - in my case some times the suburbs of Stockport evoke that strange nostalgia.

Miss Underscore said...

Beautiful . . .

I wonder if I will ever feel that way about Sunderland? I somehow doubt it. I also doubt the sight of 769 Greggs within one square mile will ever inspire such poignant writing. . .

Waffle said...

Actually, Miss U, there was a short-lived flurry of Greggs shops in Brussels. But according to my source, who actually went IN there (I just stood outside and marvelled), they "didn't sell any of the good stuff". Whatever that might mean.

And thank you all, I hadn't done any 'proper' blog writing for such a long time, I missed it. I love that there's a Welsh word for it Mountainear..

irretrievablybroken said...

This is my tangled skein of recent thoughts, perfectly spun. Thank you.

Miss Whistle said...

I understand that kind of homesickness. What a beautiful piece of writing.

Miss W

Anonymous said...

Just gorgeous.

WrathofDawn said...

The Hiraeth. I HAZ IT. And you expressed it beautifully.

Loathe as I am to quote Neil Diamond *ptoo!* there is a line in "I am, I said" that has always summed up my feelings about my birthplace and current (for the last 30 years) home, "LA's fine, but it ain't home; New York's home, but it ain't mine no more."

connie said...

This is such a moving post.

Alison Cross said...

Waffle - I weep. Lovely post.

Ali x

michele said...

that was beautifully written.

michele said...

that was beautifully written.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

..."somewhere in that vague geography I can just about see where I fit in..."

Thank YOU for putting "it" into words.

Bryony said...

lovely, lovely writing x

I too recall Gregss shortlived Belgian sojourn. A rather lovely Spanish friend was particularly enamoured of their products...the lure of the sausage roll,,,,

So Lovely said...

Beautiful post and I can completely relate.

Margaret said...

The best part of this post is that I'm always wondering why you were in Belgiana when you so clearly miss London. But now I know. You're home.

And WrathofDawn that stupid song always chokes me up a bit.

Nicky said...

The good stuff in Greggs is that greasy, sludgy Cornish pasty. It bears no resemblance to any self-respecting Cornish pasty, but it has a frightening lure. In one of the broadsheets today, various professional chefs proclaim their guilty pleasures to be: Toast, haribos, Nandos, chocolate mousse etc. Pah! Mine's a Greggs' Cornish pasty. said...

Beautiful. Absolutely lovely. You've captured it all.

Janet said...

You write beautifully. I am in awe. That is all.

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