It does not matter if you live as far away as Australia from your native Ireland or as close as Paris is from Normandy, because coming ‘home' is equally uneasy regardless the distance you have to travel. The difference is perhaps the duration of your stay because a fleeting visit is a trivial matter in comparison to a longer stay. Why am I talking about uneasiness as if I am describing a visit to a dentist? Because I know. And I thought I’d write about it for those who may recognise what it’s like to be a stranger at ‘home'.
At first ‘home' sickness builds up like a flower about to bud. Distant images float up like in a day dream: a familiar house, a garden, a dog jumping up to lick your face. Your old bed in a room that suddenly seems smaller and crumpled. A photo frame with a shamelessly young physiognomy. You buy your ticket and for a while bask in sweet anticipation. In your head you build a ‘home' of intricate detail, smelling of mum’s cooking, full of jolly good conversations and tight, long hugs. It is going well until you step off the plane or the train, and your daydream bursts like an overinflated bubble.
The reality is inevitably different. While your own version of ‘home' has been extrapolated from the scenes of the distant past, life has moved on in dozens of new directions your own script could not have possibly foreseen. It is incredibly difficult to stay poised and welcome the new ‘home' in open arms. It is only human to imagine your mother that little bit younger and to wish for more tidbits to indulge your nostalgia. It is only natural to feel a faint sting of disappointment.
I used to come ‘home' to Russia and get irked by the newly adopted English words I heard on television. I could not accept this “Newspeak” with “diving”, “pressing” (used as “pressure”), etc. taking over perfectly adequate Russian words. I felt amused when Mum bought mozzarella and avocados to impress me when all I craved was borsch and homemade dumplings. Now sixteen years after I’ve left my hometown I browse the streets of Ekaterinburg marvelling at the new buildings, while at the same time mourning the old landmarks. My beloved circus building is still there but it is overshadowed by new corporate high-rises. My grandmother’s house looks shabby and pale; the benches old babushkas used to sit on by the house have disappeared. The old Fruit & Vegetables store has been replaced by a soulless flowers boutique. I realise perfectly well that my disappointments are deeply subjective but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
Mum made borsch and a pot of tea infused with blackcurrant and raspberry leaves. I’ve built myself a nest by the window and have been reading non-stop taking advantage of the unimaginable luxury of staying offline.
It takes a while but it is just possible to dim down the fictional version of homecoming and to pick the choicest morsels and appreciate them for what they are. It may be an early morning walk along the coast or through a sleepy town, the half-forgotten smell of lilac or an eucalyptus tree. Most likely it's the taste of “the best ever apple pie”. It is even possible to experience the joy of discovery of the new pages of an old book of the past.