Friday, 10 June 2011


I recognised the house immediately, even after decades. It was shuttered and closed, but it had hardly changed: the main upstairs room then had wooden shutters, hinged from the top and propped open to let in the warm evening breeze, and now it has metal shutters. Then it was August, so hot that bathing costumes were all anyone ever wore, and footware was redundant. In the evening, that upstairs room was hot and full of conversation; the adults read the papers, drank wine and talked politics, while granny cooked up tomatoes, garlic, onions with olive oil and herbs, and I felt free to enjoy my difficulties with French, because getting it wrong really didn't matter. It was a laugh. Such freedom! I was 14.

It was a village then; most of the 'roads' were just sandy tracks between houses, with acres of flat sand and grass all around, and the cinema was a walled enclosure with rows of chairs in the sand, and a white wall as a screen. That village is now a small town, with proper roads and roundabouts, and rather regimented in appearance. Out of season it's all shuttered, strangely empty and closed up against the cold ceaseless wind, though the huge spaces of the sea and beach, and that penetrating light, haven't changed.

I needed to revisit because it had been my first experience of life outside England, a life where it was hot and colourful, where the food tasted amazing, where everyone met everyone and talked all the time, where the streets were alive at night. I discovered I was Mediterranean by preference, if not exactly French. I've met a good many people since then who have problems with their place of origin, and imagine themselves as belonging elsewhere, or who simply have preferences, and it becomes obvious that identity is flexible, something we create and recreate out of preferences and experiences, and that discovering preferences for being someone else is something to explore, so long as you never lose sight of where your roots really are.


Anonymous said...

This is what I read at the house of a tango friend of mine who is constantly on the move: I want to write something about Belonging, about this thing of being 'at home' somewhere, because if you live in a place where you sound or look Different to everyone else, people ask you if you feel at home yet. I always say 'No!' which is true, but then I never felt like I belonged anywhere really, just that some places suit me better than others at certain points.
How appropriate for a tango dancer.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangocommuter,

Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of memory - there's something universal about the places we revisit, no matter where we are now and what cultures we are from. 14 (or 19, or 21) again and free! Yes, we think we've been there too.

Irene and Man Yung