Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Indulging in a Moment of Homesickness

Apologies for not having written in awhile, I’ve been away in the US – moving around between different locales so much I didn’t get any chance to write. It was a good visit “home” after having not left Europe for ten months – the longest I’ve ever gone without visiting the US.

I put “home” in quotes because at this point I’m not exactly sure where home is, and the slight disorientation I felt on this trip was a reminder of that. My family is now spread out all across the world, with my dad living in Switzerland and my youngest brother living in Australia, while my mom and my other brother are still in the US. While in Connecticut I stayed in the house in which I grew up, but it’s now empty and tenantless. While in New York I visited Roosevelt Island where I used to live, but I don’t know anyone who lives there any more. My friends kept talking about the new resurgence of witty sit-coms on American TV and I hadn’t even heard of any of them (though I did get to watch them – Glee, Modern Family, Cougar Town – they’re pretty good).

These days New York is feeling like a different city from the one I left. Times Square has been pedestrianised, the west side elevated train tracks have been converted into a park, and there are even bike paths criss-crossing Manhattan now! There were a lot of new things I had to check out. The Times Square refurb was pretty underwhelming, essentially it just looks like they’ve put a bunch of chairs in the middle of the road – not a very pleasant place to sit and eat lunch if you ask me. I was particularly amused by the fact that they’ve painted the pavement in the new pedestrian zone green in order to approximate grass. I appreciate the effort to try to make New York a little more pleasant – one of my biggest complaints about the city is that there’s nowhere to just sit and relax. But they way they’ve done it now just seems to highlight the fact that New York just isn’t a very pretty city. But it is just temporary, and hopefully if they decide to extend the scheme after the end of this year they’ll actually extend the raised sidewalk into the pedestrian area to really separate it from the road.

On the other hand Mayor Bloomberg’s other big effort at urban beautification, the new high line park on the west side rail tracks, was quite pretty. I just hope they really do follow through on extending it, because it’s quite short as it is now (just from 14th to 20th street). But my favourite part is that it provides some great views of the Hudson, which is nice because normally you never see the water in New York (my other big complaint about the city).

Autumn in New England

The second part of the trip was spent in New England, first visiting family in Connecticut and then attending my friend Sharyn’s wedding in Maine. Apparently it now snows in October in New England, it strangely did so twice while I was there. Though it was freezing up in Maine it was also very beautiful, fully demonstrating New England’s reputation for amazing fall foliage.

It was great to see so many old friends from high school and college and get updates on what everyone is up to. Of course every time I visit the US I’m always asked the same question – am I ever going to move back? Over time my answer has softened from a staunch “hell no!” to a more deliberative “I wouldn’t rule it out.” The reality is this: though I don’t see myself leaving Europe any time soon, I have no way of knowing if future circumstances might warrant a move back stateside. Certainly, the election of Barack Obama last November went some way in restoring my faith in my homeland – though the recent ugliness displayed in the healthcare debate has dulled that down to a realistic acceptance that America didn’t change overnight just because Obama was elected.

I usually tell people that I just don’t think I could go back to the US and give up the quality of life I’ve become accustomed to in Europe. I can’t imagine going from getting 30 days of vacation a year to 5 (EU legal minimum is 25 vacation days per year, 5 is how many I was allotted at my last US job). After getting hassle-free guaranteed medical care here, I can’t imagine going back to having to scrounge around for healthcare and then pay huge premiums once I have it. I can’t imagine being back in a culture obsessed with work and advancement, where cultural knowledge and intellectual curiosity is devalued in favour of wilful ignorance and celebrity worship. And I can’t imagine going back to watching a broadcast news media that has reached such epic levels of dysfunction.

The Trade-Off

But despite these downsides to US life, it would definitely be nice to move back to New York – to be back with my friends and family, to have a consistent and stable group of people to surround myself with, and to be able to once again make oblique pop culture references that people would understand! But unfortunately this is what you give up when you move abroad. It’s a trade-off, essentially. The reward is adventure and excitement – the satisfaction of challenging yourself in a new environment where you know no one. The sacrifice is that you give up the stability of life at home. I sometimes feel envious of people who have tight ‘cliques’ – small groups of friends who see each other all the time. Though I have a lot of acquaintances in London I have very few close friends – a reality driven home when I returned here after six months on the continent to find my London friends had pretty much forgotten my existence.

But would I give up everything I’ve experienced over the past three years in order to have that stability? Absolutely not. It may get lonely sometimes, this itinerant life, but the rewards make it worth it. For me at least. But I can also see the value of staying in one place your whole life. It may not be glamorous, but it’s a valuable thing to be able to be surrounded all the time by people who love you and will always be there for you. Living abroad, I have to be content with getting that in small doses when I visit my family and close friends.

But, it’s always a nice feeling when I’m able to do so.


Greg said...

I can definitely relate to the occasional homesickness. Great photos!

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