When I quit my flat, it had just turned October.
Summers’ days were fading, mornings and evenings slowly getting nippier and grey clouds covering the sky oftentimes. I was sitting in front of the window, watching planes of the nearby airport taking off, while I filled boxes with bits and bobs. Darkness started to creep in, the days got shorter and the wet cold made me stay inside, facing the change I was about to make.
When I quit my flat, it felt like the reverberation of letting go of an old life I had said goodbye to long before. A relationship, jobs, a certain place of magnificent beauty. I felt that I had learned all I needed to, drank everything I was thirsty for and finished at least some parts of my unfinished business. I didn’t leave with a grudge, it was simply timely to do so. I quit my last flat one and a half years ago.
When I started my journey, I didn’t know what was lying ahead of me. Of course. I had decided to flow with life, go with it in my own pace and not be stuck in the past. I was eager to discover unknown territory. Before I started my journey, I took the necessary steps. I prepared for the next months. I found a friend in whose cellar I could store my belongings, another to visit for a while and an after that, an artist in residence place waiting for me. As far as plans went – I didn’t have any, only a secret stirring longing for going back. Back to India, where I had been earlier this year.
A trip that had changed my life completely, as cheesy as it might sound. India still does that for many. For a whole year I had flashbacks, dreamed of it, envisioned myself being there again. Being reunited with it. I had been in touch with friends I met there, thus only nurturing my thirst for meaningful connections, for travelling, and for India. It felt only natural, after a scholarship came in, that I would go back there to stay for the winter.
Imagine to travel like that: To live out of your backpack, go to any place you want to. Whatever it is: India, South America, Asia, New Zealand. Spend your money on train tickets, exotic foods and Visas, instead of rent and telephone bills. The only thing you have to decide is where to go next. And how long you wish to stay. No emotional obligations. No family, spouse or children. Only postcards for a sibling, or mom and dad, or your best friend, if you feet like it. You decide whom to connect with, let others be passers-by. You would have everything you need for this trip. It would be sorted out. You could live like that for how long you would want it to be. Maybe half a year, or a year.
Travelling is a lifestyle, too. I never had the intention of becoming a traveller for life. It just happened to me, for some time. I found out I was a nomad. Always had been. And it fit like a tailored dress. I found out I was blessed with the skills necessary for travelling. Being open for the new, being tolerant and open-minded to people and cultures very different to yours. Being brave, because you are going to places you’ve never seen before and will not be able to prepare yourself. For anything, really. Being flexible, because even if you have an itinerary it might just blow up in your face. The unexpected, obstacles on your path, blessings, a totally new route.
You have to be willing to let go of who you were, in order to discover who you are.
Maybe it happened to me, because I was a fearful child. There is this story that I hid behind a skirt as a three year old girl when we met strangers on the street. If you like to see life as a journey in which you overcome certain fears or conditions, in order to become who you are meant to be, maybe I was meant to overcome my fear of the unknown. In my case, this fear unfortunately, or fortunately, paired with an insatiable curiosity for absolutely everything. And zero-tolerance for restricted living conditions, for anything opposed to freedom. Which resulted in me, moving out frequently as a kid to live in the woods, where I could do as I pleased. The first time I did that I was five. (Of course I only moved out for an hour or so.) Slight contradiction, I am well aware of it. But it’s a perfect combination for travelling.
After my first year as a nomad, I was wondering about the reasons for me living this way. Was it my childhood, my side that has to do things differently? Was it fate, does fate exist? Was it because I had been looking for a home in the wrong places (i.e. Austria)? Was it because I was just not meant to have a home anymore?
Home is a pre-stressed word. If we keep it in perspective, it is simply a place of residence or refuge. A place that provides safety. A center on which we base our daily activities. It serves a basic instinct.
But in our memories, emotions and the hidden images of our past, it is our mother’s kitchen, the warmth of the radiator, next to which we sat, smothered in comfort and a woolen blanket. It is the peace we found in shutting the door to the world, just for a moment, and be with ourselves. The red of our curtains, the purple of our cushions, the shape of our bed: A place bequeathed with a certain meaning. You never think about a bed until you find that you don’t have one.
Home is a versatile word, when you are travelling. It becomes a fragile expression. Where to find safety, where to hide, wherefrom to close that door.
But I was offered safety, a pillow to rest my head, even a door to close, in many places. After all, I quickly realized that I didn’t need much. I realized how little I required. I was invited by family, friends and acquaintances. I was invited to stay with them in their rooms, flats, houses. I stayed in children’s rooms, guest rooms, living rooms. Slept on couches, in beds. I had a mansion for myself and rented rooms in different countries. I shared a house in the Italian countryside.
Each of these people not only opened their home for me. They invited me in, to be with them, to share the air they were breathing. I was welcome. I was able to see how my friends live: in beautiful old buildings in Berlin, in little flats in downtown Hackney, in magical houses in the English Shire. I could witness how they drink their morning coffee, how they take their children to bed, what they look like in their free time, or at night, or after getting up. How they behave with their friends. I met their friends too. I caught a glimpse of dozens of lives. I could feel the texture of their lives, smell it, engage in it. I would like to thank all of my friends, everyone who opened their homes and lives to me.
I stayed in 22 different places in 20 months.
When I moved into my flat, it had just turned July. Summer was just beginning, the warmth omnipresent in the mornings and evenings, the weather slowly getting more humid and hotter, piled clouds covering the horizon oftentimes. I was sitting in front of my new kitchen window, listening to the sounds of my new neighbours, the sound of that little city, while I smoked a cigarette and decided I wouldn’t need to make my place perfect. I could leave some of the boxes as they were. Because a part of me needed that to feel free.
Darkness started to creep in, the sky’s colour turned yellow and the warm air made me open every one of my two windows, and I was facing the change I had made.
When I moved in to my flat, it felt like the reverberation of letting go of an old life I had wanted to put aside a while before. A life style of wandering, a way of drifting, a certain place of magnificent beauty. I felt that I had learned what I needed to know, that I had met my nomad soul and anchored it within myself. I had drank what I had been thirsty for and knew that I bore this knowledge within me, now and forever. It could never be lost. I didn’t move in due to neediness or because I had found the place where I was supposed to be. It was simply timely to do so. To have my home base, to carry my shell with me, revealed as a tiny, lovely apartment, in which I could close the door to the world for a moment, sleep in my own new bed and listen to the swallows chirping, while I fell asleep.
© Marianne Jungmaier, Linz 2013