“Of course you can’t adopt a cat,” she laughs, not unkindly. “You don’t even know where you’ll be living in three months’ time!”
She isn’t wrong. I’ve moved three times in the past three years. Three flats, two cities, two countries. I’m not sure where I’m going next, but I do know I’m leaving Berlin at the end of April. I’ve become quite proficient at folding my life into a suitcase. I move into furnished flats, buy a couple of plants which I’ll later gift to the neighbours when I leave.
It’s a bit of a nomad life. I was lucky enough to choose it, and I choose it still today. But it is not what I expected.
The thing people don’t really tell you about moving every ten months or so is that it’s exhausting. It is fun and exciting, and all sorts of wonderful, but it is also exhausting. You never give yourself enough time to grow roots anywhere.
The streets never taste fully familiar – you wish you knew the winding alleys on the tips of your fingers, the hidden nooks and crannies, but really you still need to use Google Maps to go places most of the time. Everything – the people, the cafés, the subway stations – is always so new. You’re on a constant exploration kick, discovering places every week, tentatively building friendships, figuring out the language. Nerve endings buzzing, eyes wide. Exhilarated and panicked all at once.
You start missing it, sometimes – the worn familiarity of well-known spaces, the comfort in habits and rituals that you’ve refined and made yours over the years, the unshakable trust in the people you share your life with. The feeling you belong to the environment you’re in – the feeling of having a home somewhere.
The wandering, the packing and unpacking, the exploring – it’s taught me so much about home. About the feeling of it. The quiet warmth, the reassurance, the slowing down of the heart. It isn’t something you find somewhere, I’m realizing – it’s not a place, waiting for you, arms open and easy. Rather, it’s something you bring with you; something you carry, bubble-wrapped in your suitcase or stuffed in your back pocket.
Your mother’s smile, the smell of truffle oil drizzled on a greasy pizza slice in your favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Paris, the morning runs with your friend – they’re hard to take with you when you’re boarding a train or crossing a border with no return ticket.
What you can carry with you, however, are objects. Carefully handpicked talismans, infused with meaning. Handling them resembles a ritual – gestures your body remembers without thought, measured movements that ground you and make you feel like yourself, even when so little around you is stable. Things with which you build a home.
A couple packets of Lapsang Souchong, loose. Tea is sacred in my childhood home, and this smoked, black number is perhaps the most sacred of all. Every morning, a pot of it brews – a quiet start to the day. I picked up the habit from my parents when I was thirteen and have not missed a day since. The ritual of it – noisy kettle, slow brew, too-warm first sip – grounds me in a way nothing else does. It is a form of meditation or prayer all on its own, and reminds me that, wherever I am, I am well.
A round, bright yellow mug, wrapped in newspaper so it doesn’t break when I lug it from one country to the next. Pickpocketed from my parents’ extensive collection and painted with memories. The warmth of my home-country, the lazy Sunday mornings, the hot chocolates coming home from school. It makes me smile every time I wrap my hands around it. In kitchens full of other peoples’ cutlery, it is mine.
Books. Everywhere I go, no matter how small my luggage, I will bring books. An eclectic array of them, more than I can read. I am a person who reads: my earliest memories come from books; bookstores and libraries are my happy places. They are like pieces of myself made separate from my body – having them close makes it easier to settle down in the mess of the unknown.
A handful of objects, nothing much. It all seems very plain at first glance. But these things, they define me. They remind me of who I am. They carry feelings of home with them – memories and love and inherited rituals. They’re old friends in a foreign place, quiet comfort amidst the flurry of the uncharted. A reminder that things will play out the way they’re meant to.
I don’t know where I’ll be living in three months. But I know what I will have with me, and I know it will be enough for a home.
Alizée Chesnoy | @thequietandthewild
Alizée is a French poet in Berlin. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her photographing street art, practicing sarcasm, and drinking unhealthy amounts of tea.