Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Home is where I put down my macchinetta

(the one that makes espresso, of course)

I had all sorts of deep and meaningful thoughts about emigration and displacement on the flight back. I should have written them down, though this was made difficult by the absence of lights (caused by the sleeping child next to me, which was such a terror that I decided I'd rather be bored in the dark than have to endure his company any longer). Now, of course, all the beautifully crafted prose that was in my head has slipped away.

The main spur for these thoughts of mine was the fact that most of the people I spent time with over the holidays are part of the Neapolitan diaspora in one way or another - be it Rome or Milan, Barcelona or Liege, Edinburgh or Norwich (yes, seriously), we seem to get everywhere. Mostly in pursuit of some academic job or other, it appears.

And when we do, what do we take with us? I took, and take, undue comfort in finding my own experiences and feelings mirrored in those of the others. A rampant sense of guilt for not being there for the rest of your family (ignoring the fact that this might come from an over-inflated sense of worth). The constant nagging feeling you have to 'be family' when you're there and spend mealtimes and evenings together instead of seeing your friends (especially the dreaded 'last supper/last night'), which inevitably results in going out very late at night but then waking up with the rest of the family to assuage the guilt and never getting enough sleep. Perhaps a warped relationship with your own room, which has been crystallised in whatever state it was in when you last lived there, and somehow forces you back into that time whether you like it or not. Trying to strike a balance between hanging on to our identities as Neapolitans, and ending up being more and more integrated into whatever foreign culture has taken us on and wondering how long you can keep the balance going. The delicate process of introducing a foreign significant other to the mayhem of our city and our families. Packs of coffee which we couldn't possibly buy anywhere else, though the water is different here. A funny mixed language which can span from Neapolitan to English in the same sentence, and makes perfect sense that way.

So we go off with all the above baggage, as if the bags we cart back and forth are not enough, and we think we are settled in whatever place we have chosen for ourselves, but really we remain hybrid creatures, infinitely more interested in following the minute-by-minute match report of a Naples game than in even picking an English team to support, developing an intimate relationship with airports, watching our mammas shed far more tears than is fair, never knowing what the word 'home' maps onto and not wanting to upset our parents by using it inappropriately. It does my head in.

I realise that as time goes on, indeed sooner rather than later, the years I will have lived away from home will outnumber those spent living there, but surely that should not be reason enough to stop thinking of myself as Italian, as Neapolitan, even if I am far from a typical one, right? And yet I worry I will end up like the US-based woman I sat next to on the flight over to Naples, who had last spent Christmas there 40 years ago, and started weeping copiously when we touched the ground.

I'm not really sure where this is going anymore, so perhaps I better stop. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it was good to talk so much with other people in the same situation, but the displaced feeling is a long way from disappearing...for now, I will stare wistfully at my coffee-sponsored calendar of Neapolitan views, while I have a London backdrop on my computer at work and an Oxford one on my mobile. Will that do?

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