It started when I was 5 – I can remember moving day and the shift from my bedroom with the white pine bedside table on which I once rapped my chin when I fell out of bed, to a new house and a new view and a new world. From that move, things sped up. I’ve never lived in one apartment or house for more than three years. By the time I was 16 I had lived at 16 different addresses and I told myself to stop counting.
Because of course, every new move was not only a new room and a new environment, it was often a new school, new friends, new neighborhood, new rhythms.
In many ways I am eternally gratefully for that nomadic approach to life – it has made me able to converse with strangers and build new friendships, it has made me independent and able to find joy and happiness in my own mind and heart, it has made me able to strike up conversations on trains, it has made me able to live life without concern over things like tables and chairs and crystal and bookshelves.
I can pick up and move and make a home in hours. I am the most efficient mover you have seen outside of professionals. Sometimes even more so! I once joked with my ex-husband that I should start a company – in three days my company would pack up your home, transport it, and set it up in the new space with everything where it should be. He thought it was brilliant – of course he would, he had benefited from my moving expertise several times. He once left on a motorcycle biking weekend on Thursday and came back on Sunday night to a new house, everything in its place (including art on the walls), and dinner cooking in the new kitchen.
But… It has also meant that I cannot always completely ‘get’ people’s sentimental attachment to the place they grew up in or their first house they bought as married folks, or the home that has been in the family for generations. Part of me yearns for that – part of me is desperate for that sense of family and history and belonging. And I have that for a few special objects. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why I ended up studying the history of objects at university.
I have, however, defined ‘home’ by elements like the sense one has when you walk into a space, by the people around you, by the sense of solidness you get from yourself.
My sense of ‘haven’ is mobile, is mutable, is changeable. It’s in the pages of books, it’s in travels, it’s in music, it’s in the joy shared with friends.
Until I went to my dads farm in Belgium’s Ardennes forest for the first time. (For more on this spot, click here.)
Within minutes this lovely, idyllic, magical place captured my heart. Whether I am there for one night or ten, I walk away with a sense of peace, a sense of rejuvenation, and tears and sadness at the thought of locking up the doors behind me.
Is it the place? I don’t know. Is it the welcome and homey feeling inside it? I don’t know. Is it the food we eat there? I don’t know. Is it the walks in the woods and gathering of mushrooms? I don’t know.
Granted, the first time I went there I went with a heart that was in a million shards and a spirit that was depleted. So of course there is a sense of ‘special’ for me there. There, for the first time in what felt like forever, I had a sense of myself again, of my own needs and feelings. I had what Lenny Kravitz calls “stillness of heart.”
But I think it’s more than that. Everyone who has joined me there for a weekend or a day has felt the same.
My dads have placed the spot on the market – new dreams and new woods are calling their name. And I SO wish that for them, and SO want that for them. I get excited and wrapped up in the dreaming too. But that doesn’t mean that I am not sad about the potential loss of this ‘home.’ Because for the first time I get the distinction between ‘house’ and ‘home.’ And so I value tremendously every moment I can be within reach of its stone walls.
I got that chance last weekend. I went with my dads and spent a weekend talking, laughing, reading, eating, drinking, eating, laughing, eating, drinking. And for some of it there was even sun.
Of course, with both dads there and in the kitchen in full force, there was meals that would make the toes of the most experienced of foodies curl in sheer delight. Here are just a few of the highlights (note that this was after our visit to grocery store nirvana!):
– Chilled Tomato Soup: tomatoes, dill, goat cheese, and a splash of vodka
– Linguini with spinach and goat cheese
– Risotto with wild mushrooms
– Spare ribs baked until the meat fell off just by blinking at it
– Breakfast of potatoes baked in olive oil, with sausage, onions and served with fresh bread and home made blackberry-apple jam
– Roast beef baked in pepper and butter, sliced into the thinness of air by my surgeon dad, served with homemade yorkshire pudding and knob celery (celeriac)
– and the pièce de la résistance: Potato-leek cakes served with chanterelles baked in onion, olive oil, garlic and a shot of Armagnac, paired with lamb chops from New Zealand, (the biggest I’ve ever seen!) marinated in lemon, Italian herb mix and cognac and BBQ’s
My tummy was definitely full when we came back to Amsterdam on Sunday evening, but more than that… my soul and heart were full and ready to handle whatever life brings.
Told you – a bit of paradise… in the Ardennes forest of Belgium. Who knew!