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Anywhere I go, I long for someone

May 24, 2014

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This piece first appeared in the New Statesman.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Easyjet flight 5156 from Mykonos to London Gatwick. My name is…” I zone out. Meaningless information I have heard five dozen times before, about the flight duration, the cabin crew and the weather back home.

The weather back home is what it is. Knowing about it after boarding is pretty pointless. It’s not as if I could magically produce an umbrella, a cagoule and a pair of galoshes from the matchbox hand luggage, which their rules allow as a carry-on. What are the current rules, anyway? Smaller and lighter than the average adult Madagascar marmoset, after a light meal, I think. The inexorable journey towards a dystopian future in which, if you choose a budget airline, all you will be allowed is a G-string made out of your passport – everything else attracts a small charge.

The weather back home… Is London now officially “back home”? Or is Greece, still? I am suddenly steeped in the duality of existence that plagues all immigrants. “Every time we say goodbye, I die a little”, muses Ella in my mind’s iPod. I have been dying a little, regularly, for twenty-three years now. Every time I leave each place I call home, the excitement of seeing family is marred by the anticipation of missing friends and vice-versa. I am never truly fully present in either place. Anywhere I go, I long for someone.

A woman who looks like Sue Pollard is showing me how to fasten a seatbelt. The illusion is helped by the bright uniform and the Nottingham accent. You pull the strap to tighten it, do you, Sue? Thanks. I flash back to that first flight to London Gatwick, in 1990. A continent of possibilities stretched before me. Granted, some of the possibilities were terrifying, but you don’t think about those when you’re nineteen. A neat little, multilingual, cocky bundle produced by the European Project. A proud European citizen, who travelled around and chose the UK to study and make a life for himself.

Why did I choose the UK? London seemed to me so supremely civilised; so fabulously cosmopolitan. You could wear and do whatever you wanted and nobody batted an eyelid. Later, I discovered this also meant you could get mugged in the street and nobody batted an eyelid. As my English improved it allowed me to strip away veneers of civility and recognise they occasionally hid thoughts that were ugly, imperial, patronising, racist, snobbish; it allowed me to know the difference between politeness and politesse. But you take the rough with the smooth and, on the whole, I remain convinced that the UK is, at least to me, the best country in the world. Although, lately, I find myself adding “just about” to that statement.

I remember that first night in the tiny, squalid bedsit on the Seven Sisters road. I remember how astonishingly bold I felt. I was the imperialist now. I would conquer this city. But I also remember my instant shock at the price of food, accommodation and transport. The realisation that the money I had believed would last three months, would stretch to maybe four weeks. If I was really careful, which I wasn’t. I remember the predictive ache of how much I would miss Greece – condemned, as I was, to stay away for nine cruel years, by a brutal army service that did not recognise objectors. What would I do without the sand, the rock, the fig and prickly pear, the way the sunlight turned the sea to blood at sunset, my mother’s cooking?

I do the cooking for my mother these days. That gift was one of the first things Alzheimer’s stole from her. All she has left now is the love she put into every meal, but none of the knowledge. The knowledge survives in me. Every grain of salt and cumin, every clove of garlic, every sliver of octopus, every silly superstition that will prevent a bèchamel from curdling; they live on like squatters of my soul. My mother’s condition has complicated things considerably. It has added to every trip the feeling that I am abandoning her, vulnerable and confused.

“Please stow away your emotional baggage in the overhead compartment”, says Sue. Soon, Easyjet will be charging for that, too.

The plane is rattling down the runway now; the fillings in my teeth are shaking loose, it feels like. As a “seasoned flyer”, I consider it my duty to play cool, in order to counterbalance the adrenaline of fellow, infrequent passengers freaking out. I put on an air of calm, maybe even yawn a little – that’s how blasé I am about all this. Inside me, meanwhile, a little child is screaming: “PLEASE GOD MAKE IT FLY”. The adult in me (it is crowded in my head) silently responds: “stop dithering, you prat; you’re an atheist”. This is what it means to be a seasoned flyer. You’re still just as petrified, but you are vastly more experienced at covering it.

The little child, I should explain, is me on my first flight, at the age of six. Mykonos to Athens on a little 30-seater with massive propellers – was it a Cessna or a Saab? – terrified but also excited. Why are my ears hurting? Free orange juice? And a boiled sweet? Wow. Then, from Athens to Patra by car and on to the ferry to Ancona. A two-week family Christmas road trip through Italy and France beckoned. My first taste of travel. My first taste of Europe. My first realisation that a border is just a line – you cross it and nothing changes. No, everything changes. You are in another world, which is both exactly the same and entirely different.

And I find that “terrified but also excited” is still the mingle I experience, each time I leave home to go home. Only, each time for different reasons. Will I get that West End part I’m up for? Yes. It was a good audition. Will my father still be alive the next time I return? No. Pancreatic cancer is swift like a scythe. I won’t even make the funeral. Will people think I gained weight or lost weight, during my absence? Probably both. Will this feeling of duality ever subside? Never.

The only certainty which remains inside me, unshakeable like a granite monolith, is that I am a product of both countries now and I am a richer man for it. And, if I may eschew my British humility and embrace my Greek boldness for a moment, both my countries are richer for it, too.

Sue interrupts my daze. “Do you require a landing card, Sir?” I don’t know. Do I? I recently read that a Home Office spokesman said: “We are focusing on cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states”. I wonder what that means. How can I abuse my legal right? I wonder where that leaves me. Whether in six months, or a year, or five, I will be asked to pack a life’s worth of belongings and leave the country in which I have lived and worked and fallen in love and watched cricket and gone on marches and got drunk and cooked my mother’s recipes and helped make what it is, for twenty-three years.

I wonder if those who delight in dehumanising immigrants realise how much more of a conscious choice it is for someone like me to love this country and see it as my home. And at what personal cost.

Sweet heaven, I think it is Sue Pollard!

92 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2014 3:10 pm

    What a poignant, beautifully crafted piece of writing. I hope that you will continue to move freely but feel that you don’t have one home, you have many. You, sir, are a valuable part of the human race – and exhibit markedly more humanity than most.

    Best wishes!

  2. World citizen or roaming earth? permalink
    May 24, 2014 3:33 pm

    Wow

  3. World citizen or roaming earth? permalink
    May 24, 2014 3:37 pm

    I’m deeply moved by this!! Been living in different part of the globe for over 30 years and every time someone ask me : where is home? I’m lost -I really don’t know as I do get attached to people and places and always missing someone and somewhere but since my mother passed away 3 years ago I’m totally lost …. Keep looking after your mum after she goes there will be a void, one one cal fill !

  4. May 24, 2014 3:44 pm

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  5. May 24, 2014 4:06 pm

    kalo! den katalaba to joke gia tin Sue Polard Date: Sat, 24 May 2014 14:59:39 +0000 To: ma_physio@hotmail.com

  6. May 24, 2014 5:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Anastasiaruth.

  7. May 24, 2014 5:34 pm

    How I understand the way you feel.

  8. Rose permalink
    May 24, 2014 6:54 pm

    Loved this Alex x

  9. Nadia permalink
    May 24, 2014 6:58 pm

    One of your best pieces Alex mou,
    Πολλά φιλιά
    Nadia

  10. Pauline Burney permalink
    May 24, 2014 9:03 pm

    beautiful

  11. John permalink
    May 24, 2014 10:06 pm

    Nice post. I’ve been living in US for 45 years and still feel like it’s a foreign land. Few understand the emotional conflict many immigrants feel silently and it’s not tactful to ever complain for fear of seeming ungrateful to the host country. Sorry about your mom, my family is dealing with similar issue. Very painful to watch our parents age and get sick.

  12. May 24, 2014 11:09 pm

    Alex, this is wonderful. Thank you.

  13. bjsalba permalink
    May 25, 2014 10:57 am

    I came back to Scotland after decades away. People keep asking me if I miss the life I had there. Apart from a some friends and few items I have trouble getting here – no, not really.

    My main problem is that both places are being destroyed by neo-liberal capitalism.

  14. May 25, 2014 10:58 am

    Brilliant, brilliant Alex. Love, peace and peace of mind.

  15. Thom Stanbury permalink
    May 25, 2014 8:23 pm

    God this is so beautiful. Thank you.

  16. May 26, 2014 11:06 am

    I long too for a home – keep well and strong.

  17. May 26, 2014 11:11 am

    I often long for a home that no longer exists in reality – I hope keep well and strong.on your journey. This post made me miss my parents dead now and my childhood – love to you -

  18. May 26, 2014 3:28 pm

    This is a sad and heartfelt piece of writing – love to you x

  19. May 28, 2014 1:34 pm

    ‘A border is just a line’ – amazing quote

  20. angela permalink
    May 28, 2014 9:10 pm

    I love the way you write dear Alex ! you touched my very soul wonderful piece of writing ,give your mama a big hug ah bless.

  21. June 2, 2014 3:09 pm

    What an awesome sunset! You really take great photos! Thanks for sharing your talent with us!

  22. June 2, 2014 3:33 pm

    For those of us who are deeply planted in the nation of our birth and seldom migrate, still feel a longing for home. Soon in Kenya the wildebeests will be coming home; but they leave for home again! So where is home? For even where I am planted often feels foreign, but then soon I will be buried and maybe it won’t matter. But even that thought doesn’t erase the pine for home! ‘Deep sigh’ 😔

  23. June 2, 2014 3:39 pm

    I like Mykonos

  24. June 2, 2014 3:50 pm

    What a moving piece of writing. I enjoyed it immensely.

  25. June 2, 2014 3:53 pm

    i love it

  26. Barbara Backer-Gray permalink
    June 2, 2014 4:18 pm

    I’m Dutch and I’ve lived in the us for 20 years now. I feel you.

  27. June 2, 2014 4:18 pm

    I’ve moved a lot in my life, it can really mix up the idea of home. A great piece.

  28. June 2, 2014 4:32 pm

    nice

  29. June 2, 2014 4:54 pm

    These are some of the most sincere and true words about immigration that I have read in a long time. Wonderful writing.

  30. June 2, 2014 5:19 pm

    This is both beautiful and moving. Thanks for sharing :)

  31. June 2, 2014 5:56 pm

    You Sir! Are very talented. I shall share this gladly and help people feel what everyone in here has felt while reading your heart felt story.

  32. kirstys74 permalink
    June 2, 2014 6:07 pm

    I’ve lived in the UK for 16 years and recognise many of the sentiments you express so magnificently in this piece. Immigration isn’t as black and white as some people choose to believe. I love having two “homes”. It is my choice to live here and that knowledge keeps my appreciation for Britain fresh and strong.

  33. June 2, 2014 6:10 pm

    oh my word. you SO nailed a concept I have long struggled to articulate: “I wonder if those who delight in dehumanising immigrants realise how much more of a conscious choice it is for someone like me to love this country and see it as my home. And at what personal cost.” beautifully put. I will never understand xenophobia – the bravery of people who leave their homeland for another should be admired, not feared.

  34. June 2, 2014 6:23 pm

    nice

  35. June 2, 2014 7:24 pm

    Loved this as well….and so glad that you were Freshly Pressed so I could discover it…and how ironic that I am on vacation for a few days “home” in Toronto (which I left in 1986 for Montreal, NH and NY, where I’ve stayed since 1989) — and always trying to decide if I am still Canadian (somewhat) and whether (when?if? why? how?) I would move ever back to Canada.

    We choose our new countries for a complex stew of reasons, some emotional, some intellectual or political or professional. Home is always within us in some ways and in ways, as someone else says above, that we never really say out loud to the natives of the country we moved to.

    Many Americans are deeply offended (?) that I have not chosen to become a US citizen. But I have also seen that nation descend into bare-knuckled fuck-you capitalism to a stunning degree…I am appalled and sickened by so much of American domestic and foreign policy.

  36. mainp2210 permalink
    June 2, 2014 7:32 pm

    Reblogged this on *m*a*n*d*y* and commented:
    Where is Home? Am I lost? Or want to be lost? :)

  37. June 2, 2014 8:07 pm

    This is so beautifully told. It has a mixture of emotions that only the heart can express. While i was worrying with you about the journey and hoping the plane takes of though, you disarmed me with the few lines about your mama and papa. I hope one day you reminiscence about growing with them here. I would like to read more about this lady who’s meals seemed made out of pure love. I am a sentimental person, that’s why that caught me. Thanks for the post. I think you love every where you go that’s why you leave a little of you behind and can’t quite decide where home is. Lovely.

  38. June 2, 2014 9:15 pm

    Very Hemingway. Not my preferred style, but the thought behind it is good.

  39. June 2, 2014 9:30 pm

    So beautifully written, both countries are exceedingly lucky to have you indeed. “I am never truly fully present in either place. Anywhere I go, I long for someone.” This is a burden, as a long term traveller I know so well.

  40. June 2, 2014 10:01 pm

    like this a lot, great writing and very moving

  41. June 2, 2014 10:10 pm

    wherever i go
    i go too
    and spoil everything

  42. June 3, 2014 2:08 am

    Reblogged this on Sofa Nurdiyanti and commented:
    Judulnya keren… sekeren pemandangannya:)

  43. June 3, 2014 2:11 am

    I hope someday will have a great journey like you:)

  44. June 3, 2014 3:55 am

    Reblogged this on watmencop.

  45. June 3, 2014 4:40 am

    This is brilliant!

  46. June 3, 2014 6:46 am

    I feel the same way, and you’ve expressed it in writing superbly.

  47. June 3, 2014 7:22 am

    ohh man this touched. :)

  48. June 3, 2014 10:03 am

    nice place

  49. June 3, 2014 10:11 am

    My dad was born in Greece. He left on a boat. You had it easy.

  50. June 3, 2014 11:07 am

    I’m new to this and first time to join blogging site. As a starter, i love the way you write sir Alex. I’m inspired to write soon…

  51. June 3, 2014 12:35 pm

    wonderful

  52. June 3, 2014 1:21 pm

    “…a border is just a line – you cross it and nothing changes. No, everything changes. You are in another world, which is both exactly the same and entirely different.”
    Beautiful, resonating words.
    I have not traveled quite as extensively, and have never been outside my home country, but this is something that happens to me every time I do travel to another city, another place. I keep expecting to see some sudden change, which I don’t see. And yet, there’s something different- that I can feel, even if I can’t see.
    You make me want to read. You make me want to write. I thank you for this gift. :)

  53. June 3, 2014 1:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Let's fall in love in Paris.

  54. namastekala permalink
    June 3, 2014 2:19 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you for writing this. I’m Canadian-born of Greek decent. I never feel at home wherever I am. Even though my duality makes life richer, it has a cost. Having said that, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  55. June 3, 2014 3:00 pm

    Just beautiful!

  56. June 3, 2014 9:19 pm

    Reblogged this on recumbent Norse.

  57. June 4, 2014 4:03 am

    V nicely written blog! Cheers: )

  58. sunnykay permalink
    June 4, 2014 4:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Locsy With Moxie and commented:
    As a fellow somewhat frequent traveler, I found this quite appealing. What would make one leave home so young? I know. And still, anywhere I go, I too, long for someone

  59. June 4, 2014 8:26 pm

    This piece struck a chord somewhere in my heart. Each time i board the flight from where i live to visit my parents (who are a 14 hr flight ride away) or the other way around, there is a sense of leaving behind something precious but at the same time the excitement of going back to something familiar. I wonder if this dilemma of emotions would ever cease?

  60. June 4, 2014 9:14 pm

    Hi de Hi – we’re all just passing through….

  61. June 5, 2014 6:27 am

    Looks delish! I’m tempted to fire up the oven and give this a go!

  62. June 5, 2014 8:08 am

    its just wow !!

  63. June 5, 2014 12:46 pm

    Reblogged this on nghiduongvietnam.

  64. June 5, 2014 1:28 pm

    My lucky day today…I stumbled over your fabulous post! Thank you

  65. June 5, 2014 1:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Cloud.

  66. June 5, 2014 3:14 pm

    You are all very kind. Thank you. x

  67. June 6, 2014 2:40 am

    I was a missionary for five years and once, upon returning from a summer in the States, I told the seasoned missionary who picked me up from the train station that I was happy to be back but sad to leave. He said something that’s always stuck with me. “As a traveller, you’re always saying good-bye to someone, but, then again, you’re always saying hello to someone else.”

  68. June 6, 2014 2:50 pm

    I’m calling home 2 countries now and I used to call home different places for some years. I do understand how you feel, but I guess the curiosity and the temptation to know and see more is pushing us to try, go and discover new things. Well done, sturdyblog :)

  69. June 6, 2014 8:13 pm

    You express so exquisitely the emotions of many. Continue your writing. You are gifted.

  70. June 6, 2014 10:43 pm

    This line in your post resonated with me – “We are focusing on cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states”. I was once told by a military officer, “Since you’re using your rights, you’re abusing them.” He was completely serious, and he had at the time the power to make my life miserable. I was so dumbfounded by the contradictions in his statement that I was speechless, and that more than anything else let me exit the situation relatively unharmed. But there are people of power all around us who really believe that to use one’s rights is to abuse those rights.

  71. June 7, 2014 1:03 pm

    Reblogged this on Apps Lotus's Blog.

  72. June 7, 2014 9:02 pm

    Reblogged this on New Author -Carole Parkes and commented:
    I love this honest style of writing. I’m hooked.

  73. June 8, 2014 3:31 am

    we all do that at some point to a lesser and higher degree of our lives,,,, longing is in the depths of our being

  74. June 8, 2014 6:11 am

    “I am never truly fully present in either place. Anywhere I go, I long for someone.” the same exact dilemma ever since I started travelling.. until now, it never change.

  75. June 8, 2014 4:10 pm

    Beautiful.

  76. June 8, 2014 7:41 pm

    I love your easy natural yet heart felt writing style…honest…and I connect with the sentiments…I think I am destined to live this life…it scares me a little but it maybe what I need to do….live life between continents….haven’t quite done it yet…just dabbled…we’ll see…thanks for your story (o:

  77. June 9, 2014 1:22 am

    I hear this and feel it. Fluent and right on the mark!

  78. June 9, 2014 3:28 am

    Fabulous post. Thank you for your openness. Thank you for your courage to speak of what we often ignore. You’ve reminded us to see the trees amidst the forest, to see the faces among the crowded sidewalk. I appreciate the education you’ve given us. You have much to offer the UK and this cyber nation.

  79. June 10, 2014 12:20 am

    A true diamond in the rough. It made me appreciate the world from a different perspective. A great piece of writing that is heartfelt and beautifully expressed. Thank you!

  80. June 10, 2014 4:56 am

    so well done. You can never go home again. But we can make homes anew…Home seems to merely be the place you grow up in. And I hope we never stop growing. or else – whats the point ?

  81. June 10, 2014 5:23 am

    “Please stow away your emotional baggage in the overhead compartment”. hahahahahaha awesome. I think you might like these: sexy poems and sweet words….

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/06/why-laura-ward-poem/

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/06/lighten-up-this-life-is-a-game-wanting-to-be-played-laura-ward/

  82. June 10, 2014 6:38 am

    Having duel citisenship in both the U.K and the U.S, my travels have encouraged me to cross many lined borders that hold no changes and transformations alike. In a perpetual state of missing someone…somewhere always. But over the years i have decided to keep adding those lines to my “emotional baggage”, because i realise that the longing never subsides, but in the manner of constantly meeting new faces that beg for a place of residence within my heart….i feel strangely lucky

  83. June 14, 2014 4:18 pm

    Home is where the heart is. And if you have lived in multiple places and travel a lot, your heart is everywhere. Reunions are ongoing but you still miss and long for something and someone… But what? The past?

    Great piece! Here’s mine on a full moon in New England…http://www.anneku.com/2014/06/13/reunion-madness/

  84. June 15, 2014 6:48 pm

    And someone seems elusive.

  85. June 16, 2014 1:49 am

    Beautiful reflections! I’m an immigrant as well—US to Canada. I have a bit more security now that I’m mom to a Canadian-born citizen, but I, too, nervously watch the rising wave of xenophobia that seems to be surfacing in so many places.

    And on a personal level, I can completely relate to the feeling of never quite feeling at home and always missing something. My father has Parkinson’s disease, and I hate the time that I miss with him.

    Good luck to you and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  86. pagesandcrumbs permalink
    June 18, 2014 8:51 am

    I know exactly how you feel, thanks for putting into words with such skill. It gets harder to leave home every time….

  87. June 26, 2014 2:30 am

    This is a great piece, such a great perspective into your world.

  88. Angelika permalink
    June 27, 2014 7:49 am

    This is a wonderful piece of writing and it is moving me to tears.I have lived in England now for over 26 years, after having moved here from Germany, am very happily married and with a family – I love living here , but the pain never seems to fully go away. It lies just below the surface, and reading your story brings it back. The saying of good-byes and leaving loved ones behind on either end , and thinking you may never see them again is excruciating.

  89. June 28, 2014 6:29 pm

    Finally somebody could put into words what I’ve been feeling since I moved to Canada from Germany. I especially love the quote “The only certainty which remains inside me, unshakeable like a granite monolith, is that I am a product of both countries now and I am a richer man for it.” Thank you for being able to put into words what I’ve never been able to do.

  90. July 2, 2014 9:14 pm

    Yes, well put. Obviously from the comments you touched a lot of reciprocal notes in others. Me too, but for me it’s UK and China – the older I get the harder it is to visit my “other home”.

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  1. Anywhere I go, I long for someone | saveourcola
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