I come from an ancestry of nomads — picara women and children, barefoot sun-leathered skin, freckled backs, tangled ocean hair. Women who define the term “vagabond” and wear it as proudly as their sunburns, unapologetic and red. In their footsteps I find myself unable to settle on simply making a home within my skin. I have an overwhelming desire to find a place to take root, but there is an equal desire to keep moving, moving, making homes out of places that make me feel just as estranged as my lineage of wayfaring rogues. Still, it is the human condition to make houses out of wherever we end up. This is the recounting of a few of the places that have become less like the abstract idea of a place, and more like one of the many houses I’ve gotten to call home.
My father told me of a fountain his grandmother would walk to every day with empty water jugs, one in each hand, in a small town about a two-hour drive southeast of Rome. Its open mouth spewed straight from the side of the mountain, flowing endlessly; granting her water, then my father, and now me, with my open metal canteen, drinking from the same spring and wondering if it will make me feel connected to this place, this homeland where my roots should tether me closer to her and everyone that came before. I ache to feel like part of the lush green, to be embraced by the warmth of the city and swallowed whole by the earth that’s kept this town alive for a century before I was born. Still, I am a stranger here. I wonder about the evenings to come when neither her nor I will exist. I wonder if the land will remember those who made this pilgrimage to this same spot, too.
I eat the fruit off the trees. I let the air fill my lungs, eyes closed. I listen when my family tells me that this is the place I should feel like I belong, birth rite spring water ready to meet my dry mouth, wanting to relieve my thirst for wandering.
I swore I would learn Italian.
Sono spiacente io abbandonato mia madrelingua.
I travelled to Paris with a friend and stayed in an apartment owned by a visual artist, the weather so hot we’d keep our bedding in the fridge so we’d have something cool to wrap ourselves in at the end of the night. Our first night we drank too much and trusted melatonin pills to cure our jet-lagged drowsiness. Instead, we ended up spending the night dizzy and laughing at the sound of our own voices. The next day it hailed golf balls, white rock and ice falling in through our open window to wake us in the middle of an afternoon nap. Sudden, urgent, pelting onto our sleeping bodies. I caught one in my palm and watched as it melted, dripping between the spaces through my clasped fingers.
My friend lived in Paris her whole life, growing up there before trading its faded white streets for the concrete of Toronto. The ivory-weathered French landscape is cracked with the echoes of its history, unlike the new metal and glass of this city she now calls home. She said she preferred our winters, the way the snow had a habit of covering all of the city’s harsh edges in glittering white, imitating the palette of her memories back home. She made me feel like less of a tourist, less of a romantic who dreamed of the place everyone dreams about. Less like a person that didn’t belong, and more like someone who stumbled over this full-mouthed language that felt too thick for my tongue.
Yes, I bought a beret. It does not suit my face shape. When people stared, she’d wave them off. “No one here wears jeans, let alone ripped ones,” she’d say to me.
I learned to say adieu without faking the accent.
I arrived in Copenhagen by train after a five-day stint in Stockholm, staying in the cheapest hostel I could find, and settled on a room shared with three other women in the hopes of making some friends. I practiced eating alone and walking in tour groups. The tour guide told us not to bother learning the language — it’s too harsh, like the sound of rocks hit by the sea.
One night, by total accident or divine intervention, I got locked out of my room. A stranger passing by watched me struggle for a while before deciding to intervene, trying and failing to pick the lock before inviting me to join him down at the hostel bar to meet his friends for a drink. He told me he was from Kansas City, and introduced me to the five other friends he’d made who all happened to come from North America too. Everyone there was travelling alone; they told me of their journeys, swapping stories like badges of honour, sharing photos and adding Facebook friends. Eventually we decided to venture out into the streets and explore this strange city none of us knew much about yet, craving the night air and deciding to trust the company of the moon against a still blue sky. It was midsummer in Denmark so the sun never truly set, keeping the streets light even into the late hours of the evening. The night was a blur of laughter and jumping into glinting puddles left from the day’s rain, and stumbling into every open bar we could find. We danced, we explored, buying flowers and enjoying the cool of the summer air while singing together at an embarrassing volume along to the music echoing out from a karaoke bar and filling the streets. We were solidary soloists on our own adventures, each of us striving to find a little piece of ourselves in this new city, hoping for something familiar to latch on to, some sort of comfort to take the strangeness out of feeling like an occasional nomad. We found our place in our shared solitude, deciding that for the rest of the night we were one another’s agreed upon companions, families, lovers. For that night, we belonged to the city just as much as we each belonged in the somewhere-else’s we called home.
Our goodbyes were hurried — quick hugs at the airport terminal and promises to stay in touch. We collected no tokens of our time together aside from the smell of the city still stuck to our hair.
On the flight home from Denmark, I sat in my seat on the plane listening to the rumble of its engine as it tore away from the tarmac and broke into the sky. I shut my eyes to try and hold on to these moments for a little while longer, until the ringing of the picara women woke me from my sleep. They sung in low voices: you can belong to many places, these houses have a habit of not expecting anything in return.