My family comes from the mountains that frame the breathtaking arch of the Bay of Roses. So that is where I feel my roots are. Perhaps because those mountains were the scene of the old family tales my great-grandmother and mother told me. And this is where I have always returned to, but I have never lived there.
The first seven years of my life were in pure mountain village idyll in Vallfogona del Ripollès, in the Catalan Pyrenées, a place where if you played in the middle or road you were more likely to squashed by a cow than by a car. Then we moved to Girona, a beautiful mid-sized town where, back then, people where very clear as to whether you had lived there all your life or not. I had not, so although I enjoyed living there and made good friends, I was always an outsider. At 18 I moved to Barcelona to study and was there for five tremendously exciting years, enjoying the fact that in a big city almost everyone is an outsider in some way. And that was even more clearly the case when I landed in London afterwards. I now live in Canterbury. It is beautiful even in a rainy day and increasingly rich culturally. It is a city where a European academic can easily feel at home.
Like everyone else who has moved around, even within the same country, I often wonder about belonging and about where home is. After having been away most of my adult life, I no longer feel that I belong in my country of origin, even if I continue to care enormously about it. I do not fully belong in England either, in fact it is specially hard to at the moment, as I can’t manage not to let all the anti-European migrant political inflammation get to me.
What I am realising is that perhaps belonging is not something that can ever be achieved in absolute terms. You can belong a bit here, and a bit there. And that it is possible to feel at home in a place where you don’t fully belong. Where my home is, is up to me. And I have even learnt that it is fine if home is not just a single place. Home is the space I share with my loved ones, wherever that is. It is not a building, it is not even dependent on the junk that has moved with me from one house to another and that gives a sense physical continuity.
Despite this “belonging relativism”, one thing I know that clearly helps is finding a sense of community in the place you live. After a few weeks of travelling, today I went to buy food at the Goods Shed, five minutes away from where I live. I was buying food and planning homely meals and, most importantly, talking to the warm people who run the stalls. One of them even welcomed me back to Canterbury. It seems ironic that being there made me feel home, even if I only arrived last night from the country I come from. I also felt I was back home when I put away all the fresh Kentish food in a kitchen where, as a good migrant, I keep a good supply of Catalan produce.