garden

Where is home, anyway?

gardenI think the question of ‘home’ is one of the hardest concepts for any long-term expat. This is a subject I have talked about before, but since its something that I personally think about a lot, especially when I make my annual visit to the states to visit family & friends, why not talk about it again? This time we got to visit Miami & Key West before heading to San Antonio, Texas for my brother’s wedding and of course we had a very good time. It was so much fun to explore a new place in the USA {that I will be writing about!} and play tour guide for my Frenchy who has never been to the great state of Texas, where I grew up.

To be honest, the term home for me has always been a little flexible – I used to think that something is wrong with me that I didn’t feel a strong attachment to any given place but rather to the people in that place. I think now after meeting so many people who feel that same way, I feel less lonely in this feeling.

Since I am nearing the fun age that is 30, of course I think it’s pretty natural to want to put down roots and at this time, Florence Italy is that place for me. It just has so many of the elements that make daily life a pleasure, no need for a car, great food, lots of fun activities that don’t cost a lot, easy travel, general buzz of the nearby piazza, cheap flowers, and just so much more. It doesn’t feel like I have been here for eight years but that is a good thing. I think like a lot of people, I really want a wonderful work-life balance. I want to love what I do, be in love, and really live the life I dream about – not one day, but rather every single day. To quote Edith Piaf’s famous song ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ or no regrets.

Coming home  means we arrive at the airport bleary-eyed and a bit of a mess, waiting for the luggage to take forever to arrive {how that is possible in such a small airport, I don’t know..} and for the drug dog to sniff us down, I always want to pet them but the guy doesn’t seem to like the attention. We see all of the ray-bans, leather shoes on display and people chatting on their cell phones or pulling their kids away from the slowest moving luggage belt I have ever seen in my life. In the taxi or over-priced airport bus, we pass by empty streets and garages – some beautiful, some not so much. Finally we enter the center of the city, crossing my bridge {well I wish I owned it, Ponte Santa Trinita} to come home to my tiny street housing a public bathroom, wine shop and several antique stores and hipster shops. Knowing that we can set everything down, change shoes and have a quick walk in the center of Florence in less than 10 minutes to stare at everything familiar is what I love most about this place.

My relationship with the center of this city is complicated, sometimes pushing through crowds of people can be annoying when I’m in a hurry, but at the same time, I see all sorts of amazing things on a daily basis. Not through my computer but just by going outside. The ‘clak clak’ of someone’s heels on the pavement, a street performer posed for happy tourists, a laugh, that random ciao bella, it’s a feast for the senses (and not always positive, I’ve stepped on my fair share of dog poop and general nastiness’). This doesn’t mean that I am not up for change and if one day we decide to try something else for a while, that’s ok too ‘home’ can be anywhere as long as I have my Frenchy in tow and some good books ;-).

2013 was a really incredible year of change for this girl and it seems like April has arrived out of nowhere, where did those few months of the year go? Next week is Easter and for residents of Italy, we will enjoy some extra holidays this month with Pasquetta and liberation day on April 25 and May 1. hallelujah! My partner-in-crime’s parents are coming to town to visit which means I really need to step up my French, right now my vocabulary borders on the offensive and or colors & numbers. Also for the rest of this year, I am very excited to experience new places and even more excited to write and hopefully take things to a new level, Florence has a way of taking risks seem normal.

For the moment, after sleeping 15 hours for a little post-vacation jet lag, just a short post reflecting on home and where the heart {pasta and wine} is.

As always, I love to hear from you guys and exchange thoughts about what ‘home’ is and means to you. Wherever that happens to be. 

*** Check out this awesome post ‘This must be the Place’ by great blogger Gillian which touches on the same topic and which includes some pretty awesome music ;-).

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    • GirlinFlorence

      Florence has a certain power doesn’t it? I get why some people would never live here but for me it always felt like the place I should be, even if not forever (but I hope it is!)

  1. Jennifer Avventura

    Great post! Sometimes They say ‘home’ is where the heart is, but what if your heart is in two places? Most times I feel mentally closer to Sardinia than Canada. Canada will always be my birth country but I’ve never really felt an attachment to it like I do for Sardinia.

    I’ve now re-expatriated (is that even a word) into Canadian society and it was/is very hard to come to terms with Canadian ‘culture.’ After spending 6 years in a deeply rooted culture in Sardinia I feel as though Canada has lost its culture – we are a huge melting-pot of cultures from all over the world. On the city streets I hear Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Spanish and Italian spoken … it leaves me wondering “Where am I?” It’s diverse and strangely confusing for this returning Canadian who just wants to eat homemade pasta, Seadas and drink Cannonau.

    • GirlinFlorence

      First off, thank thank you so much for commenting Jennifer. I was actually really hoping to pick your brain on what it’s like to re-expatriate. Perhaps I can interview you about it? It’s so fascinating to me, your perspective. I feel the same way about the USA a lot of times. As if the commercial aspects have taken over the culture, we do have a strong Mexican influence in San Antonio (as it should, it was previoously part of Mexico!) and its crazy how fast things change. Where are you guys living in Canada??

      • Jennifer Avventura

        Sure, you can interview me about it. There’s a lot to say! :) You hit the nail on the head about commercialism in North America. It’s shocking! The second day I was here my mother had some errands to run and we headed to a superstore, I was overwhelmed, anxiety took over, I started to sweat, it was all very surreal and couldn’t wait to get out! I mean the shops in my little town in Sardinia are the size of a small apartment! It was a huge adjustment and made me aware that I detest florescent lightening! :)

        • GirlinFlorence

          That lighting is the worst.. honestly I love Target and browsing everything but being in those stores for long periods of time makes me crazy. I had such a great time but I now need a food detox and just need to WALK walk and more walking. I feel really bloated after all we ate (of course thats what happens when you visit home lol).

  2. Sharon, Ticket to Travel

    I especially enjoyed this post as I could feel your emotion about returning home ( a Firenze). I really appeciate, admire and agree with your attitude about place and friends. It will be good to follow your posts as time moves on in Florence. I am on the other end of the age continuum, and getting ready to leave San Francisco for Italy for 2 months. It’s something I do almost every year, thinking someday we might live in Italy (only for a few months at a time). So, for me, my heart leaps at the thought of seeing the Duomo again, finding out where they moved all the market stalls around San Lorenzo, and just seeing the familiar sights. Thanks again for posting.
    Sharon

    • GirlinFlorence

      Thank you Sharon, I do tend to get a bit emotional when I see Florence for the first time after a couple of weeks. Especially when the weather is so gorgeous and inviting (and full of people at the moment). That’s awesome that you make Firenze your second home, I think if for some reason we had to move, I would have to do the same to stay sane! :). I will keep you posted on what’s going on in Florence from the view of a Texana Toscana! Happy Saturday!

  3. calleebash

    I am very Interested to hear about your visit to Key West, Fl. What you liked about the Island, where you stayed, where you ate, clubs you went to, musicians you heard, if any?
    I lived in Key West between 1985-1996. I gave birth to my only child on that tiny US island.
    I left Key West because I couldn’t stand it anymore! Once a sleepy, artsy, musicians dream of a town, became developers heaven overnight, and within 6 years it was (IMHO) ruined!

    My family is originally from Bermuda, and my son, now 25, lives there, whereas I, I am here in Strada in Casentino, Italia!

    • GirlinFlorence

      ciao! I am really excited to write about Key West, we were only there for one night (and I will mention that because I don’t think that’s enough time to be anywhere NEAR an expert) but I liked it. I could see what you mean about it becoming a developers nightmare, unfortunately you can see where the good meets ‘commercial’ quite often but the historical bed & breakfasts were amazing. It’s a small word, eh??

  4. Robyn

    Another excellent post from my favorite blogger. You do inspire me to chase after that crazy dream that is mine. But for now I will bloom where I am planted, and the find the ability to steer my life in a everyday happy. My home is that tiny place in my soul that dances of simple pleasures. I do find after each yearly trip to Italy I grasp more and more of this embracing of simple pleasures. To learn to be quiet and just watch life happening all around me. My most treasured moments in Firenze are such simple things. Running to the top of piazza Michelangelo at sunrise, practicing my language with locals–who always (with hilarious exceptions) seem happy to help blunders, and long dinners over great food and wine with our Italiano friends. Those moments I feel that Italy is really my home, even if only for a short while. Until that day my dream comes true–I’ll work hard, study language with more discipline than ever, and follow along in your fun adventurers. :-)

    • GirlinFlorence

      Awww thank you so so much Robyn, you are such a sweetheart! I think finding that happiness at home is the right step. Sometimes it seems like everything is meant to distract you (eating, shopping etc) but it can really be worth it to open your eyes and find out what makes you truly happy, those moments with friends, laughing over something silly. Sounds cheesy but I stand by it. Especially after such a few crazy years.. ps. I am very impressed that you ran up to Piazzale michelangelo at sunrise, I might have to try that sometime myself. In the meantime, keep doing what you are doing and I am sure you are already on your way to becoming una italiana, even outside of Italy :)

      • Robyn

        Georgiana, you must do the run! Meraviglioso!!!! Each year my husband and I run up, and sit and watch the sunrise over Firenze. We talk about the past year, where we are headed, and how incredible (and crazy) our roller coaster life is. 17 years of marriage and being with him is my greatest blessing. We always say as long as we are together that is where home is. Thank you for inspiring me to think a little deeper today. :-)

  5. Giovanna

    I have been following your posts since discovering it last year when I was in Florence. I split my life between California and Italia and return to Florence every summer before heading to my apartment in Monterosso al Mare. I could not imagine being in Italia and not coming to Florence. Being born an Italian American in Hoboken NJ to Italian parents I was never far removed from Italia…so I feel very much at home in Italia. But there are also many things I love about California, maybe because in many ways it reminds me of Italia? But when I am arrive and step off the train in Monterosso I say “I am home.” Friends greet me with their ever cheerful CIAO Giovanna ! They welcome me back and soon it is as though I never left. So which is it? Am I coming or leaving home??? Thank you, your post let me know I am not alone in these feelings. Thank you I enjoy your posts because I often entertain the idea of moving to Italia full time.

    • GirlinFlorence

      Ciao Giovanna! Thank you for sharing your perspective, its a real treat to see what an Italian feels like coming home after being so far. Though I agree about Italy and California’s similarities (both are great places to live). I think that special feeling of having two homes or even more is a lot better than feeling as if you have none. It’s all about perspective really and now I am more aware than ever that this sort of feeling is not unique to me, thankfully! Thanks for stopping by and commenting again!

  6. GHMike (@GHMike)

    Home, to me, is a feeling. A feeling of being safe in a place with people you love and whom love you. It’s not a plot of land, bricks or mortar or even a specific town. We don’t own that stuff we only own ourselves. So if your happy, content and feel safe then you are home. BTW beautiful blog post.

  7. aklus7

    Great post! I wrote a thesis my senior year of college very similar to this “phenomenon” of home. Now that I’ve settled in Florence I’m fully aware that there is no other country I could ever live in. The US is great (I’m from Iowa), but there is something so entrancing about Italy! It is certainly my home now.

  8. lee

    i think I have always been an expat in reverse. . Living in the USA but alive in Italia. From the time I get off the plane, something changes. All the senses are awake! shall be posting an expats view of going home to a foreign country soon on hometoitaly…. will welcome others to comment when it is on line.

  9. Carol Schroeder

    Last year in April and May I rented an apartment for 2 months in Florence. I would love to be able to do that every year or every two years. The biggest issue I have about feeling really at ease there is the language, of course! Florence has so much English and I was never in trouble because I don’t know Italian but…I am 67 and have always been bad at learning a language and am not sure I want to spend my more and more precious time learning Italian rather than studying Italian Renaissance art, Dante and Vasari. Any thoughts on how language and the feeling of home relate to each other? Love your blog…Carol

    • GirlinFlorence

      Great question Carol, thanks for bringing the ‘language’ factor up. It’s true that when you learn the language, you start to really understand the culture and the people as there are so many things that cannot easily translate.When I learned Italian, the best part was being able to show my personality better than just a few translated wooden phrases. When I could happily tout slang and make local’s laugh, I knew how important language is to a culture. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to learn if you are only in Italy for a short time. I recommend taking classes and using the app Duolingo, not only to better comunicate but also its brain exercise,there is no ‘negative’ to learning Italian :). In boca al lupo!

  10. Cath at Lizzie Rose Jewellery

    I’ve been an expat for 23 years and in the beginning ‘home’ was always my home town in England, even though I left as soon as I got married, away from family. As the year’s went by, ‘home’ changed to wherever we lived, ad I always made them homely, even the most

  11. The Traveling English Muffin

    Your post led me to reflect on this a lot so i thank you for that :-). I often find it difficult to comprehend why i feel more at home in America than i ever did in my home country of England. I often think that if i was ever completely on my own here, would i leave? And my answer is no. I knew nothing about America before 2011 and i feel more at home here, embracing every aspect of daily living. As a child, I used to hate leaving any vacation with my family to go back to England. Why? England is a great place. I guess for me, I agree that home is where the heart is and my heart was born to travel. I fall in love with the culture, language, food and lifestyle. I was the same way when i lived in Brussels. I was 20, no family around and yet it was my home versus my home country and i literally had to peel myself off the airplane when i landed back in England. Family is key to me now too, but they better be overseas :-).

    • GirlinFlorence

      Thank you so much for your awesome comment. Growing up, I never really felt at home in Texas but it was still a comforting place for me. I always had that itch to get away, to travel, to find my ‘place’ as I guess you call it elsewhere. Being in Italy, I sort of feel that I could be happy anywhere but this is the closest to home I have ever felt. Mostly because of a pleasant daily life routine. Plus the proximity to travel is very desirable. Where in America are you based??

  12. Stacy di Anna

    A lovely piece as always, Georgette. Very touching. Especially liked “home can be anywhere as long as I have my Frenchy in tow and some good books.” Hope you are catching up on rest and enjoying what must be the gorgeousness of Firenze in primavera.

    • GirlinFlorence

      Thank you Stacy! coming home to Florence with such gorgeous weather is such a treat. I have been enjoying long mornings with lots of coffee and just staring at the rooftops outside my window :)

  13. Carla

    What a touchy subject to me especially since I’m coming up to my half way anniversary. 24 years in Toronto and 24 years in Siena. As much as I complain and bitch about my adoptive country….. I’m still here.(It’s the food) But I still call Canada my home. Not a good sign.

    • GirlinFlorence

      I think where ‘home’ is to you can be anywhere you want. I can 100% understand why Italy after such a long time still doesn’t feel like home. I think it really depends on a number of cercumstances, persnal life, community interaction, work. I wonder if I would have had the same experience being in another city in Italy, you never know!

  14. Cindy

    My home is where my husband and girls are. But, where you are right now is where I’ve felt more alive than anywhere else. Here, i can’t shake the feeling that what i do, where i live, and what i own defines me. Its like I’m in a competition that i never signed up for.
    There, i am an individual with tastes, feelings, and opinions. Maybe they judge you by what you are wearing, but my real italian friends don’t give a damn about whether i wear Chanel or not as long as I’m real, that’s what matters most. That said, i think i am in the right place for this stage of my life. I think that motherhood in Italy right now is very hard, as there is a traditional expectation put on mothers to do so much for their families but the economy is such that a lot of moms have to work crazy hours outside of the home. It just makes me grateful that i can work part time without fear of losing my job and still feel like i have a work life balance.

    • GirlinFlorence

      Ciao Cindy, thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective. You make some valid points and it sounds like you really have a good head on your shoulders at whatever challenges life throws at you. I think that you are 100% correct about motherhood in Italy being tough, the hours are crazy and many people expect you to be perfect in every single way. Though I too have Italian friends that love me for who I am and grazie a dio per quello :).

  15. catherinesimes

    Living abroad it’s a question that is always going to reoccur, to go home or not go home. After four years in Rome, home seems to have become unsettlingly interchangeable. Confusing for myself and everyone else, when I’m in Rome home is usually Bradford where my parents, friends and family live and where I grew up. Yet when I’m there the pull of Rome, now home, is strong. Lovely post, good to hear other people’s experiences!

  16. Mike

    As a future expat, I feel like this is something that I will be able to relate to in the future. I studied abroad for 6 months in Granada, Spain 4 years ago and still not a day goes by that I don’t reminisce on my experience there. I left part of myself there and part of Granada will always be with me. In September, I’ll be moving back to Spain (not sure where yet), but I believe that this conundrum of where home is will hit me at some point. I’m in my mid-twenties, so the “putting down roots” feeling might hit me sooner than it would for recent college graduates. While this seems like a challenging situation, I look forward to it!

    • GirlinFlorence

      It’s one of those things that might not be the biggest ‘itch’ you need to scratch when you are living abroad but it comes about from time to time. Worst analogy ever, but I think you get the point. If you have already lived abroad once, you probably can relate. Coming home that first time after such an inredible (hopefully) experience and feeling a little lost. Do keep me posted with your adventures, I am always interested to see how fellow expats are fairing!


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