Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Darkness. I wake with a jolt, completely disoriented. In front of me, a looming shadow. I have no idea where I am. Heart pounding, I concentrate, try to remember through the jetlag.

Slowly, it comes to me.

I'm home.

I've been away for nine weeks. We've stayed in ten locations, ten different hotels or bedrooms or basement floors, and I have not woken once without knowing exactly where I am. Now, only now, am I completely disoriented.

When we arrived, I headed straight for the kitchen. And was staggered by the floor. "Is this our floor?" I asked. "Is this really it?" I didn't recognise it, couldn't reconcile it with my memory of the place. Later, preparing food, I found myself staring at the bench top. "Has it always been this colour?" I wondered. Everything, but everything, feels unfamiliar. I have to stop and think; I can't remember where I keep the tea towels, and I'm wandering around the kitchen with my hands dripping wet, searching like a stranger.

I'm shocked by the decor. As my girls shriek in play, the sound drills into my skull. The floors are bare, the walls empty, the windows in the public rooms naked. Noise bounces around. Our house is cool, spare to the point of being dismal. "Am I just camping here?" I think. "Where are the rugs?"

They say home is where the heart is. I thought that meant we longed for our houses, but as I walk around my own house, a house that my friends love, a house that I've written about, I wonder what I'm doing here – and I realise I had it all back-to-front. It's not that our hearts are linked to our houses; it's that our home is where our hearts yearn to be. And this is what made our trip so wonderful: my heart delighted in every rural location, every little town, every river bank, every muddy puddle and glistening stone and gnarled oak tree . After a lifetime of living in big cities, negotiating traffic and broken glass, ambition and consumption, appointments to see friends and rush hurry bustle, my whole self was exhausted. Away, my heart expanded. I felt at home almost every place we went.

So now where is my heart? Is it with me in Melbourne? Perhaps, given time, it will come back to me here as we devour ripe figs and eat sweet grapes from the vine. The pears are ready to be picked; the almonds are dropping from the tree. Eating food from the garden always helps me feel grounded. Perhaps, too, as we share wine and stories with people we love, I will remember who I am and with whom I belong.

But at times I think I left it in Cornwall. A month ago, I sat in Glasgow Cathedral and prayed for home. Thinking of my own city, I was instead flooded with yearning for a grey town of stone and water, threaded through with lanes like crooked fingers. In the hazy light of the cathedral, blurred further by my unexpected tears, I saw before me sea and sky merged into one. Above me, I heard gulls.

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