Places and choices

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A mixture of places and choices by A Mum +

Probably a consequence of being pregnant – and of having moved again – I find myself thinking more and more about the choices that we make, how these choices impact our children, and the notion of Home. After leaving my country of birth at 25 and living in three European countries since (the Netherlands, the UK and now Ireland), it appears to me that the notion of home is actually a hard one to define. It is a subject that comes back very often, especially in times of political upheaval.

What is your Home? It seems unimaginable to a lot of people that the identity of one’s home may change. Some say it is your country of birth. Others that it is your country of origin. What if these two are different? What if they are the same but you left years or decades ago?

Some say that they couldn’t leave their country of origin and/or birth. Or “you will go back” they say “people always go back”. But my mum didn’t and she left her country 40 years ago. On behalf of my son I try to explain that although the country of birth (the Netherlands) and the country of origin (France) are important, the place where you grow up, where you live, is also important (Ireland from now on, hopefully). It is where you learn the codes, the language with the local accent, the culture, you follow the news and the TV, be it cartoons – they are different in different times and different countries – or films. Jokes are made and spread based on movies, events or politics, and your relation to others is linked to this. How many jokes and cultural references have I missed since I left France? How many of our jokes – or even the words we use – does our family not understand? If we were to go back, I try to say, we would never be totally French anymore, not in our eating habits, our references, our points of views.

I truly believe that we would not be able to live in a small village and be accepted there. We would be seen as different, the ones always discussing subjects from another point of view, always taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. The ones who would not care if children eat in MacDonald’s once a month or watch so many hours of TV, or are breastfed past their infancy or in public… A lot of the local opinions we wouldn’t agree with anymore, or wouldn’t care about. We would stand out.

My country of birth is France.

My country of origin is France, but also England, or the UK: my mother was born in the UK and left when she was 20. One of her grandfathers was Scottish of origin (from both his parents who had been born and bred there), and one of her grandmothers was Irish, again of origin if not of birth.

My dad is French from French parents who lived in two African countries in the 50s, he was still little when they came back to France. One of his great grand father was born in Columbia in the 19th century, from French parents, who decided to go back to France when he was in his teens.

Am I French? Part British? I believe I grew up a mix, about 60 to 75% French because of school, TV, having a French dad, growing up in France… 25 to 40% British because we went to the UK regularly to visit our family there. My mum probably raised us a bit more like British children than French (how could she do otherwise?) and as a girl I showed interest for where she came from.

Then I left France when I was 25, to the Netherlands, where I lived for 8 years. The first years were tough, I was homesick for my family, for parts of the culture, for the language (though we speak French at home). But it passed and Amsterdam became Home. Not Dutch, we were something in between. We became what is known as “non-residents” of France. Not expats as we didn’t pay taxes in France, but French citizens living abroad, paying our taxes in the Netherlands, voting for the local representative AND for the French president. We had bank accounts in Amsterdam and kept a bank account in France. We had to give my parents address for that one: there was no possibility to give a foreign address! People always come back I suppose 😉

Over a year and half ago, my husband was offered a position in Cardiff, Wales. After eight years in Amsterdam, and with a son not yet of school-age, we thought why not? Now is the time if we want to try something else. So we went. I and my son have British passports thanks to my mother and we hoped that my husband could ask for one in a few years. Then many things happened, not the least Brexit. We started looking again and, 6 months pregnant, we recently moved after accepting an offer for a position in Dublin, Ireland.

When asked where we are from (you can’t hide the accent), we say we are French – and if I have time I explain a bit more, though most people probably don’t care, they just want boxes – but I don’t actually believe that we are French anymore. We are not registered to vote there – I feel a bit guilty considering, but should we vote, really? I don’t think we will ever go back, though who knows? But why should we? Home is not there. We have family there that is all. There are things we like there and things we don’t. We speak the language and know the history, yes… Home is not here yet either but it could become.

The thing is, home is not necessarily where you were born or where your parents were born or where you grew up, it can be where you choose (or were forced) to live for love or for work or for any other reason. It is as much a given as a choice. It is made of the place and the people. But it doesn’t mean you have to leave all your past experiences behind. Or that you have to like everything about the place. And who does, even for those who didn’t move from their country of birth?

Will we move again? I don’t know, I hope not. Will we go back to France? I don’t know, I think not, I hope not. It would be like giving up our dream, like going back to live with your parents at 35 after a divorce – we might feel like we failed. People wouldn’t care about our life in those years of living abroad. Of course we came back, it’s France! Well it’s a great country in some ways and not in others, and certainly not the centre of the world, as much as some could wish it 😉 To blend in we would probably have to pack up our memories and experiences and lock them up. We would have to follow the French rules of behaviour and communication again, some of which have probably changed since we left. I don’t even know what kind of music or TV shows or films people watch and listen to there!

To conclude, here are two links for poems that I wrote on the subject and which I think illustrate all that with different words:

Non-residents

Back Home

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Another change

Latest update in the exciting/busy/eventful last few months: we’re moving to Ireland! My husband has found a new position there, with a permanent contract – if all goes well – and we’re now getting organised to move there, husband, toddler, pregnancy and all!

I can’t help remembering this post I wrote a few months ago, after the Brexit vote – I know it probably had some effect on our choice :/

Well, at least 2017 will be interesting 🙂 But hopefully not too much and we can settle there nicely and for a while. Fingers crossed.

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Landscape in Wicklow mountains (Ireland) by Mahender G, flickr

Wendy Cope poem that went viral after the election/Atlantic article on why “The aftermath of the 2016 election has found many Americans seeking solace—and wisdom—in verse.”

Tribrach: for those who love (or would like to love) poetry

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Still, Poetry Will Rise – Megan Garber – Atlantic – November 1o, 2016 (an interview with Don Share, the current editor of Poetry.)

People who are poets are often very political; they’re often activists. We talk about political poetry as if it’s a kind of effusion about something going on, but the truth is, the heritage of poetry includes politicians. I mean, Yeats was a politician. Our greatest poets, really, have been active in what goes on in the world. And great or unknown, poets are participating in what makes a difference in the world. If you perceive that politics is a way of making a difference, and you engage in it, then you can get something done. And the same can be said of poetry. –Don Share

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Let’s do it

It has been a while, with some major changes and happenings, in our lives and in the political and financial world.

Concerning our lives…

We decided not to buy the house in the end, between Brexit and our other uncertainties it seemed better to postpone such a big 30-year-mortgage move. In Amsterdam we had bought our flat right after the 2008-crisis. Afterwards the price just kept going down and we couldn’t sell and move out without losing a lot – not doing that again.

I am over 4 months pregnant with our second child! And hurray! the anxiety and the fear to lose it are back full time. Thank you hormones and messed up sleep… Physically everything is going well so I’m trying to deal with it one day and one night at a time with the help of my husband. Diseases and accidents, time with my son, guilt, giving birth (can I really do that again?), first weeks, sibling discovery. Out of the top of my head. One day at a time and a bit of crochet.

 

A little bit of economics

I just read this article about how the Italian economy is “crumbling“. “New figures released on Friday showed the Italian economy achieved 0 per cent growth in the second quarter of this year, down from an already disappointing 0.3 per cent in the first quarter. And experts fear the government could be forced to downgrade its growth forecast for this year to 0.8 per cent or even less.” [The Independent]

I can’t help but wonder how it matters, why should they have growth?! Isn’t being able to feed people enough? No they have to make money. They have to have inflation. It’s ridiculous. Now they’re apparently looking to increase their debt so they can spend money and make more money out of it. Jobs are important, food is important, having a house is important. Please explain how this is related to growth. That some guys somewhere make money out of money and they’re going to “lose” money because they had planned on getting more which they have already spent. Then don’t spend that money-you-don’t-have then! If I did that with our household money I’d be a bad housewife. Food is bought with the salary. Holidays are paid with the money I put on the side. Rent is paid with the salary (though if we didn’t have the salary we’d have a problem, it’s money-planned-to-be-spent).

Thing is we do spend money we don’t already have. We’re buying a house, with a mortgage. And if we were to need a second car we would have to buy it with a loan.

Because everybody does it it doesn’t mean it’s right and I don’t agree that it’s different. People just got used to it.

Spending resources we don’t actually have but plan on having – or using resources that cannot be replaced. Reminds me of something… We really have a troubled society, it’s hard to see how it could lead to something good. Please revise the system. Please make inventions that will help. Please help us find a way not to live on predicted wealth. Where should we start?

I’m guessing with the food – local, organic if can, limit (not necessarily give it up) red meat as it uses more energy to produce – the clothes – don’t buy new clothes or shoes every week/month/year, we don’t actually need them… – the furniture; the toys – a new phone every year, really? TV? Laptop? Less toys for the children, they don’t ask/need so many, legos are good for all and having less toys is better for children anyway – the water – shower, not bath, when possible, drink tap water (filtered water?? it produces waste, but so do plastic bottles…) and no waste in the water supply, use products with the least chemicals in them, no pesticides that go in the water – the car – is washing it every week or month really necessary? A SUV or a smaller car? – the electricity consumption – insulation, heating, appliances… And recycle your waste. Any other ideas?

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Growth; source: poolski, flickr

Back home

“She gave us this gift from back home”
Understanding they are good neighbours, friends even. 
But what her voice and her skin do not say 
is she left this home her country 40 years past. There is no forgetting.  
She cooks one way one day and the other the next,  
speaks to her children in the language for them to access the knowledge, 
the culture. They learn the major tongue elsewhere.  

Uprooted at six months old he lived here for forty years.  
What his voice does not say he tells strangers willingly: I am from there” he smiles and chooses to remember. 
He tells stories and asks for them, 
visits landmarks with his children. 
Did they laugh in school at his name, at his parents' voice,  
until he owned them? Not from here, different” some say, some whisper.  
What does it take to be accepted or tolerated? What does it take  
to not be? A voice, a skin, a remembrance of identity food, people, places, customs? 
Blend in some cannot, would they want it or not, 
a mixture made over time they have a foot over some line,  
drawn with changing references it forgets history and choices. 
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Source: Oregon State University, flickr

The cemetery view

I live by an old cemetery with a few sandstones amongst the trees, and some new marble ones at the back.

For a long time, I have been afraid that I or my child may be swallowed in our morbid days by this sight, by our fear of death.

But fear of death is only fear of the unknown and fear of change, it is no evil but what we make.

These graves are Death Happened, but also Lives Lived!

How many were short, or lain not to be regretted?

The stones, the words, the few flowers say: however long they were there, here lay people who mattered.

It shines in the darkness, by the shadow of the sun in the trees, by the light of the moon on the grass:

Death is a life lived to the end. These graves are lives loved.

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“Beautiful graveyard shot” by Matt Wharton, flickr