Cultures Sauvages (Raw Cultures) is a radio show on Radio Eponyme, a local radio of Mulhouse. The show was created in 2017 and talks about culture and especially music and literature. Since October 2019, I’m doing a chronicle every month about my travels and I decided to draw something to illustrate my adventures!
The April 2020 show was about being locked down because of COVID 19 and was recorded in each of the team’s house since we couldn’t get together to record it as usual. You can listen to (in French) right below:
Since we’re all being asked to stay home, I wanted to bring up that subject that had been kind of haunting me for a few years now. What’s home?
In English, there’s a distinction between “house” and “home”. The first one would be purely physical, four walls, a roof and everything that can be found inside, while the other would have a more sentimental value, it’ll be the family household, a place you feel at home, an anchor, a place for returns.
I could say I stopped having a home since 2015, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I definitely don’t have a house, because I sold most of my belongings, my car, my washing machine, the carpets and most of my clothes. I kept all of my books and a few things I couldn’t sell in an impersonal, locked, storage box. I left Strasbourg with the strange impression of becoming houseless and a certain dread thinking about leaving this city that had been my home for seven years. I recall feeling free, already nostalgic and awfully worried all at once. How does one is supposed to live without a home? Beyond the walls of my studio in Strasbourg and everything within it, there was a strong feeling attached to it.
This studio was my house and my home, it belonged to me. Not in the sense that I acquired it financially speaking, but in the sense that I belonged to this place and it belonged to me. It was a part of me, we tamed each other until we were part of each other’s routines. Beyond those four walls, this feeling of belonging was fortified by all the small things of the everyday life, this was my street, my supermarket, my favourite sushi restaurant, my tramway stop which I knew the routes by heart to enlarge this home to the scale of the whole city. This sense of belonging was also enhanced with having a stable job which allowed me to pay my bills, buy my groceries and buy myself piles of books.
Most of all, I had this deep sense of belonging thanks to all the people I had met there. I belonged to a social group to which I could relate, we had our private jokes, our codes, I felt taken care of, appreciated and safe, when I was around them, I definitely felt at home.
However, here I was, back in 2015, having sold my belongings and leaving to travel a year in New Zealand. Since then, I barely had a stable home, in fact, the shared flat I’m writing from today is the place I had lived the longest ever since. I moved in about a year ago.
Is that to say that I haven’t had any home since 2015? Did I ever find any place where I belonged? In which conditions? Why staying in a place more than another? Why leaving? You can guess that this matter of belonging was a central and daily question in my travels. And yet my answers all so subjective. After all, we’re talking about a “sense of belonging”, it’s all about the feelings, something intimate and personal.
If I think about all those “homes” and try to extract the essence of it, to deduct a recipe for this sense of belonging, a lot of data comes flowing, haphazardly, even sometimes contradictory.
Sometimes it’s about having a room for myself, like in Te Anau, New Zealand, where, after six months of sharing dorms with other travellers, I ended up renting a room. I had a new job at the local supermarket and was sharing the house with the landlord, Bruce, and an Irish housemate, John.
The room was so big, I emptied all my backpack’s possessions on the floor. There were only two single beds, one night-table with a lamp and a mirror. In this house, I could have some normal habits again like cooking, going to work on Bruce’s bicycle, write some blog posts, read in the garden, play with the dog, get letters from my loved ones and even take baths. The little town of Te Anau soon became familiar with its marvellous lake in-between mountains, its friendly inhabitants and a joyful gang of friends with whom eating carrot cakes and go dancing.
FEELING HOME IN SOMEONE ELSE’S HOME?
However, I’ve felt this sense of belonging to a place many times when I didn’t even have my own room or even my own bed. Like in Hualien, Taiwan, where I decided to live in a hostel. I had a bed in a dorm, and depending on the affluence, I sometimes had to change bed or dorm. But this place really felt like home to me. I would always come back and be welcomed by my friend Una who would take my straight to the nearby restaurant to eat my favourite noodles on Earth. In the konbini across the street, I didn’t even have to try to say in Chinese wŏ yào măi xiāngyān Winston lán sè de anymore, my pack of blue Winston was already on the counter as soon as I entered with a smiling nǐ hǎo.
Not only the Hualien county became one of my favourite place in the world -I had my routines there like my long bicycle rides, our rituals to watch the sunrise, all the meals cooked together, and those getaways to go swimming in the sea or rivers- there was also something stronger that made me feel at home: I felt like being part of a family. We grew up to know each other, work with each other, laugh with each other, and even if we were from different backgrounds and nationalities, our bonds were only stronger.
BUT THEN WHY LEAVING?
It’s as if my heart couldn’t stay more put than my body. As soon as it feels safe, as soon as it can breathe, melt into a secure daily life, it starts to get restless and scared. Routine is necessary though, to allow ourselves to rest, make projects and thrive… But it’s also a kind of danger of stagnation and getting locked down. And if there’s anything I can’t stand anymore is having my freedom shackled. So I’m flirting with this ambivalence like a tightrope walker. And I’m leaving again, back on the roads, always nostalgic of what is now over, and anxious of what’s to come. I multiplied my “homes” in hostels, shared flats, caravans, hosted in stranger’s houses. I almost always find something comforting that makes me feel a little at home. I always bring back with me pieces of those places. But is it really about places anyway?
Wouldn’t it be more about people? The ones who welcome me into their lives, smiling, doors and hearts wide open? What if I was travelling only to enlarge this family? Those connections, unique, unforgettable, authentic?
I’m locked down at home, like almost everybody else in the world, and now I realize that my “home” isn’t really about those walls that the people with whom I’m building connections. In French, we say tisser des liens, “to weave ties”, which implicates a delicate and intricate kind of work.
It’s been a year that I’m living in this flat, Rue de la Loi. Although no furniture is mine, I feel great here. It even feels like home. Thanks to a lot of details, but most of all thanks to my flatmate Valérie. The fact that she’s leaving little presents in my room for me to find out when I come back from work. The way she laughs and how she shouts “Allez là!” so we all get motivated to go downstairs grab some drinks in the neighbour pubs. I love the fact that her cat comes purring right against me when I’m sick or depressed. Mulhouse has become my home thanks to this new family I found here, in this flat, but also thanks to both of my jobs as a bookseller and a waitress in wizard café. Places and people are thus intertwined.
Why leaving? Why coming back?
Because there are a thousand and one ways to feel “at home” and it seems that I’m determined to explore them all. Because, if I’m not meant to have a stable house, I should as well expand this beautiful gang of people that are and will always be my home.