And you? Do you belong somewhere? How is it that you make a place, a group, a family part of your fiber? Where do you plant your lunar flag? When do you finally set the palm of your hand gently on a lover’s face, letting her close her eyes indefinitely, without second thoughts flying above you?
There was a pub in Glasgow I remember fondly. It had a brazilian theme — go figure — and a mesmerizing scottish redhead from Inverness at the bar. Me and my cousin bristled with enjoyment, as we had been visiting Inverness not many days before. Between laughing at our misadventures, she warned us about scottish winters.
Despite them, we’d had an incredibly lucky weather that past week. Zooming happily along lonely roads in a bright blue Ford Fiesta, laughing along to BBC Radio 2 and discovering the brisk, awe-inspiring, teeth-shattering scottish wonderland, Jaime and I lived a week in a permanent state of wonder.
As our drinks slowly waned, we realized we were tired from all our walking in Glasgow. That night had started hours before, though, with a polish girl’s birthday party. She and her friend flew next to us, from Portugal, and from there we arranged to meet.
The most outspoken, let’s call her Glasgow, described to us how they felt like they didn’t belong there. I wondered how it all felt, working abroad, amidst a new group of friends, on a completely different culture. The drinks succeeded, as they reminisced about their glasgwegian adventures with a polish outlook. Me and my cousin had heard similar stories all across Scotland, and this wouldn’t be my last.
That trip had many memorable moments — like my first hour driving on the opposite side of the road, and the bomb-defusing tension of driving into our first roundabout.
That Ford Fiesta we rented even had a corny name, Mac Miles. Not the brightest of names, I know, but it turned that bright blue right-handed-drive vehicle into a friend, and along with me and Jaime, we ventured north.
Tenderly past the Craigorns we went. Drinking whisky on that bartender’s hometown too, meeting Nessie in a gift shop while gazing at the elusive Loch Ness. I feared the ice on the road would made us tell a different story, but — alas! — the Isle of Skye, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh soon followed, amidst a thousand little discoveries and an impromptu reunion with some dear friends from the Camino.
A full year passed.
Now, my cousin was over a thousand kilometers away. There was tea beside me, at the room 802 of a swiss hotel.
My nose was bleeding and I didn’t know why. Apart from bleeding noses, I know traveling alone helps you work on yourself. I believe we carry something of every city we’ve been sad in, and consequently, I have something of Zurich too. Travelling, sometimes, means feeling sad elsewhere. I was sad elsewhere.
And there she had been, two hours before, my delightful Tinder match struggling with the thinnest of margherita pizzas, as I longed for the moment I could put away all that pasta. We laughed at Asterix’s depiction of the swiss, and that roman’s strange desire to be whipped for letting his piece of bread fall on the fondue.
I’ve been something of a free fall this last few months, barely grasping what i’m supposed to be aiming at in life. Sometimes, I feel like that funny roman, setting himself up to fail, and then failing at it.
Zurich told me about her heartache, and how much it still stung. A frankfurtian living in german Switzerland, a busy worker bee of fair hair and brown eyes, she told be about her travels, before she briefly mentioned her ex. They had years of memories together — and then he left. That made her a stranger in her own place. Her house. This wasn’t her home.
As we strolled along to the Opera house, Zurich gazed at the floor, between runaway laughs, her chin nesting nimbly on a light scarf. A petite green umbrella held whatever bits of rainish snow fell on her. What happened, I wonder?
I wish I knew. She kept everything I haven’t asked a mystery, and so it remained, as Zurich took the train home. The city of twelve hundred fountains of fresh drinkable water, of notables, of dozens of Nobel laureates and centuries upon centuries of a rich history, dating back to that roman who liked his fondue risky.
How could she belong?
Days later, I met a friend in Lausanne. She and her friend told me all about their country, between burgers and gin, and endless laughter provided by their strange alchemy of a friendship.
The next day, we went on a little swiss road trip to visit the most wondrous of places. The lake had a deep, enchanted blue, encircled by snow, which made its colors pop. Every now and then, a little shower of dry, clear white snow fell from the trees, on a delicate and deliberate attempt to become part of the lake. Meanwhile, Lausanne walked her dog, almost as white as the landscape, soothing him in french, disperse words of a loving nature.
We went for lunch in Vevey, a place known for its connection with the late Charlie Chaplin. As we slowly made our way across our sandwiches admiring the Lac Leman, I thought about Chaplin, a poor brit made famous in the land of opportunity, before being exiled from it. How did that feel? I can only imagine. Swans went about their lives, crossing the sun, making white little bird eclipses. The most surreal set of mountains in the background made all that peace and quiet an eerie one. Next to Lausanne, I wondered about Chaplin.
And the more I think about his sense of belonging, and Inverness’, Glasgow’s and Zurich’s, the more I fail to understand about mine. Every trip I make I return home more of a stranger, less of a friend, a bit more distant in ways, wondering if the best way to belong somewhere is to be away from it.