We left the little Elba island and said our goodbyes to him (office job does not allow for infinite vacation, while a stay-at-home mum has the luxury of taking the boss indefinitely on holiday with her).
The three of us – my daughter, my son and I – took a train from Florence to Orvieto. In less than two hours there I was: Home, old home.
People seem older. Same faces, same shops, same old accent. Just everything older and a little more distant, year after year.
I put my feet down on the platform and I am suddenly so foreigner.
Much more so than in London. Actually in London I am not a foreigner at all. I am just another complicated Londoner that comes from somewhere else.
Here, I am the one that left. Long time ago.
I must have acquired a Britishness in my way of life that they find exotic.
People look at my children and me, and sometimes comment about how horrible the weather must be, and “poor you eating fish and chips everyday”. Or something like “You look very British”, or “Your daughter is so blonde that you wouldn’t believe she actually has Italian genes in her”.
No use pointing to dozens of local passers by with blue eyes and fair hair (as myself, by the way). No, they are right. This is something I have done, something I have become.
And I want to own it fully.
Yes, I am a foreigner. My little family in its entirety is composed by four foreigners. Whenever we go, we either don’t belong (anymore or yet) or belong partially. It might seem sad or scary, but believe me, it is fantastic.
Nobody can be freer than a foreigner.
Nemo propheta in patria *.
If you want to be listened and taken seriously, don’t preach in your village. Even if you have done a monstrous work, they will still see in you just the local child that you once were. And for that, they will have the illusion to know your true self.
Being a foreigner means having the guts to start it all over again, not to count on your original family’s structure, maybe learning a new language (or two) and accept to sound like a fool for years every time you open your mouth. Leaving behind friends and family and understanding that the cultural gap between you and them will grow year after year and you won’t be able to stop the process once it’s started. Realizing that it is safe to venture, for instance, tasting foods with flavours that none of your ancestors ever tasted.
Accepting to let go of the idea that your children will be just like you at their age. They will be different from you. They will even find your accent funny, sometimes maybe embarrassing.
On the other hand, you get freedom. Silence from those background noises masked as ‘traditions’. You get the right to be different.
And to me that silence, that difference and that freedom are worth a homeland – they are my homeland.
* “Nobody can be a prophet in his homeland”, sentence found roughly in the same form in all four Gospels.