preparing to leave and return again

Just six weeks ago I returned to the States and this weekend, as I gathered my things once again in preparation to leave another time, the cab ride home from the airport kept playing in my mind. I had brought my large, green suitcase back with me — along with a promise to only bring back a quarter of the things (thankfully, summer clothing is considerably less bulky than winter items) — and was being driven by a man who was considerably more jovial than I had the energy to fully engage. So I sat quietly, politely answering a few of his questions in the hopes that the rest of the short drive home would be experienced in relative quiet. Even as his questions ceased, the sound of chatter in my mind grew stronger. The solitude of not merely living alone in a small space, but doing so in a country where relative anonymity gave me added license to be still and listen quietly, had fully given way to the all-consuming noisiness this new-familiar city. The visual landscape was jarring, unfamiliar in contrast with the streets I had come to think of as home, in my habit of forming and founding homes quickly. The top of the recently built Comcast building jutted out of the earth like overgrown USB memory stick. Walls of steel and glass and metal filled my field of vision that grown accustomed, in the previous few months, to more muted and less shiny structures and surfaces. Easing back into the rhythms and routines of this home were not hard, somewhat to my dismay. As a result, my noticing suffered. Even with camera often in tow, the urgencies that awaited me took precedence. This isn’t a complaint — merely observation and perhaps a form of gratitude for the chance to gain distance, and in so doing gain time in a profound way; time to attend to the overlooked, time to take notice, time for the to “would love to do” lists.

Thankfully, that time is waiting just around the corner, or across the ocean to be precise. My return to London is imminent and this stretch is structured a bit differently than the last, in large part because it actually has a structure! And there are other significant differences including the fact that the lovely A has relocated to London-town for a long chunk of time. (I seem to be unsuccessful in my attempts thus far in convincing A to begin some sort of semi-public chronicle the adventures to come… perhaps this will provide much needed guilt-fueled inspiration…) And while I am a creature who fully embraces solitude in all of its quiet splendor, communing with old friends in new locales can also be joyful and enriching. This visit, it seems, will be an embarrassment of friendly riches as my travels will be peppered with the occasional rendez-vous with comrades from places near and far.

Leavings, of course, also evoke a heightened awareness of what is being left behind, however temporarily, and this time is no different. As one of my siblings is planning a move to this city in the coming months, this awareness also serves a dual purpose — to notice and also to share resources, city secrets. Among them, the gloriously understated Miel Patisserie on 17th Street — for macarons, coffee or tea, and hands down the best grilled vegetable sandwich I have ever eaten (and I have eaten or tried to consume quiet a few). A gleeful smile from the shopkeeper on a recent walk home reminded me of the treasures to be found inside Spirit of the Artist (SOTA) — it’s the source of most of my wedding gifts and a living testament to the local arts. And in recent weeks, unintentional right turns have brought me face to face with a string of restaurants on Front Street (that were new to me) and Tartes, a pink box of a shop that sells some fantastic cakes, pies, and yes, tarts. (see below for the Google Maps image — see, a pink box!)

Tartes, Arch St.

All of this leaving and returning only serves to deepen my curiosity about our understandings of home — about how complicated a notion that is, and perhaps why there are so many sayings about it: it’s where your heart is; where you hang your hat; different than a house; a place to find peace; a place simultaneously built of love and dreams and where love and dreams are built; a feeling; a destination; a site of challenge as well as joy; impermanent; ever-lasting.

When I was quite young, my parents and grandmother instilled in me that when one turns to walk out the door, even if it is just to go to mailbox to retrieve the day’s post, the appropriate utterance was not “good-bye” or any of its variants. No, it was, translated from Tamil, “I’ll go and come back.” It is perhaps why even now, as an adult, I am drawn to such sentiments in any language: A bientot; See you soon; and in my best Terminator impression, “I’ll be back.” (Aw, the Terminator was such a softie.) But perhaps there’s also a trace of seeking and finding homes and that to be at home in one place does not deny the sense of home in another place or in another’s company. That we are always leaving and returning home.