New departures, or: going home

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  • , Non-Fiction

This morning when I woke up, the first thing I read was an article from the LRB, posted online by a friend and fellow translator. Written by James Wood, it’s entitled On Not Going Home, and is a fascinating exploration of home, exile, emigration, alienation, homesickness and much more. The following paragraph particularly resonated with me:

”When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.”

Coming here to write this now, I saw the quote from The Catcher in the Rye with which I introduced my last post, just over two months ago now: ”I think that one of these days you’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there.” The post before that was about ‘home’ too, about my experiences and struggles in exploring a location independent lifestyle. It was a subject which was very much on my mind, and I was starting to realise that home was much more important to me than I had thought. Material possessions, for the most part, I could relinquish, but a space to retreat to where I feel calm, centred and ‘at home’ — that I couldn’t. Home can be a person too, or people — and I believe that’s why I was able to settle in well in Berlin and Buenos Aires, away from UK-based family and friends, because I was lucky enough to find or already have friends in those places. When I came out to Buenos Aires back in November of last year, I was filled both with the desire to explore a new country and culture, and also (confusingly for me) a nagging but suppressed longing to encounter something that felt like it could become home. As it turns out, I may have found that in a place that it never even occured to me to look. A few weeks ago, lying in a hammock in the small Brazilian neighbourhood of Boiçucanga in São Sebastião, a place I never expected to be several days after the date of my original return flight to London, I looked around and felt like I had come home. Logically speaking, I had no idea how a country where I don’t yet speak the language and of which I know relatively little could become home, but it just made sense in a way I can’t put into words. At this point, I should admit that this overpowering, unexpected connection was about a person too, not just a place, and the two were inextricably linked. At a time when I least expected it, someone came into my life and abruptly changed my thoughts and ideas of my future. But once he did, it felt like those thoughts had perhaps been there all the time, unacknowledged. Even though some stages of the ‘location independence’ journey I embarked upon last year were hard, by alienating myself from the comfort zone of what I thought was home, I managed to figure out exactly what elements of home are important to me. I now realise that I longed to be on’foreign’ shores, immersing myself in a culture that isn’t my native-born one, but without the constant moving around; in short, to make my home in a place that thrills and challenges me. And it turns out that it was a person who led me to acknowledge that longing, who prompted me to feel I can really be in a certain place and put down roots. After much conversation in a relatively brief space of time, both he and I changed what we thought would be our homes in 2014. My return flight from Buenos Aires to London, already postponed twice, has become a one-way ticket to Sao Paulo. And I leave tomorrow night. It feels strange to think that, potentially, I could have left my native homeland back in November without even realising it. All I have with me is my laptop, a few family photos, and a medium-sized suitcase of books and summer clothes. Is this a crazy step to take? Probably. But does it feel right? Absolutely. I planned to take a two-month trip to Argentina, ended up staying for three, and now Brazil could become my home. If so, then this step is a momentous one, ‘a large choice’ as Woods puts it — but right now, it feels like the most natural one there could be.

Very soon I’ll be negotiating the intricacies of working as a German-English translator from Brazil. I feel encouraged greatly by the strong online translation community which will enable me to stay in touch with the UK and US translation worlds in between visits, and am already looking forward to discovering a new literary scene in Brazil. For 2014, I may have lost the London and Leipzig Book Fairs, but I will hopefully have gained the Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty, the Frankfurt Book Fair and even the São Paulo Book Biennial. Of course, learning Brazilian-Portuguese is high on the agenda too. In a way, I think this could even fuel more intense links with the translation and literary scenes in the UK and on the continent for me, in much the same way as I’ve found that being here in BA these last months has inspired me to work extra hard to maintain relationships with friends and family — being far makes me realise what I have, and reminds me every day not to risk losing it.

For now, though, it’s time to finish packing and soak up the now familiar cacophony from Avenida Córdoba coming through my window. My last night, time to bid farewell to Buenos Aires and embrace this unexpected but exciting new chapter in life.