Home, they say, is where your heart is. And true indeed, your closest relatives might mostly be dead, or alienated from you, but I find that nothing can replace the distinctive feeling of belonging that I feel when I arrive there. And this is valid even now, even when all that remains of the piece of family I spent my youth with are a tomb and some ashes.
It all starts as you’re still far away, on your approach to the town. You can either be on a train, or hitching a ride in a friend’s car, or driving your “own” rental vehicle, but you cannot miss them. They’re the Alps, the first sentinels of home. In summer or winter, they’ll be there. Sometimes the top will be engulfed in clouds, sometimes the haze will blur their silhouettes, but it’s really rare not to see them. If you cannot see them, well, that’s when you better start humming Creedence Clearwater Revival. I fear rivers over flowing. I hear the voice of rage and ruin.
The road will lead you through a landscape that’ll make you think “Is this all?”. Sleepy villages, railway tracks, old rusting factories next to newer, pre-assembled and ugly concrete shells where industrial output is churned out these days. It’s a bland, unremarkable sight; you’ll drive by and forget but, give it time, and it’ll penetrate under your skin. And one day you’ll wake up missing it.
The town grew over time and as a result evolved in a mixture of old and new, shiny and dilapidated, occupied and abandoned. Every corner, every doorway, every odd sticker left on a sign remind me of a past that I thought would’ve lasted forever and that, instead, ended soon.
I’ve always lived in that same town, from birth to when I left for university, and even in that case I didn’t venture too far. Until I left it never occurred to me how beautiful the place was. Not in a stunning, jaw-dropping way, not in the sense that would make the Americans go aww-some when they see it; rather, in a more delicate kind of way. The old town, perched on a hill; a cable car, connecting it to the ower city; the arc of the mountains, almost embracing the place; the bell towers, and churches, and the wealthy villas on the hills: all this created an ensemble whose beauty I only noticed when I was no longer living there.
Now ‘home’ is no longer what it use to be and my links with it are becoming increasingly tenous. I see myself visiting it less and less frequently and, I fear, it will come a time when more than a year will pass between visits. I fear that moment, I fear the return after a long absence: how will home have changed? Will I recognise it? Will I like it?