some people say home is where they hang their hat. I suggest those people pack their bags and move very quickly to a part of the world they've never been - preferably one where the main language is one they don't speak, the favourite local dishes are those they require instructions for how to eat, and city maps closely ressemble diagrams of the small intestines. they should travel alone. after arriving at their destination, they should stay put long enough to celebrate their birthday and at least one major holiday, which should be one that's not celebrated locally. then they can come back and tell me that home is just the place you live.
I've lived in four countries in the past six years and I've concluded that before you can call a place home, you first have to leave and come back. sometimes it takes a few trips, but eventually, you drive in late one night and find that everything has an exciting familiarity to it. you see the store with the cheap chocolate and the store that never has fresh meat and notice that the bushes at the corner have finally come into bloom. you find yourself seeing things as a local and an outsider at the same time; you notice things you haven't noticed since you first saw them, and you find that now they mean something they didn't before.
but that's not enough. before you can call a place home, you need to know it well enough to have favourite spots. they should be specific - midway up a tree at a local park, an old building that strangers to town wouldn't think to scout out. you should have favourite shops, too, tiny places sandwiched between the post office and the pizzeria where the flapjack is always cheap and the strawberries are always ripe.
you need to stay long enough to watch the seasons change. you can't call a place home if you've never seen it decked out in layers of red and gold, white and brown, and green and yellow or if you've never seen it miserable from cold and wet and heat.
then this is the hard part. you have to be able to relax there. you have to be able to spend eight straight hours sitting in the grass with a book and not feel guilty about wasting the day. you have to be able to do nothing at all and not feel that you should be out seeing the sights. you have to realise that whatever there is to see and do will still be there tomorrow and the day after and probably next year too. and that, I find, is the hardest part about bouncing around the world every couple years. it was four years before I returned to neuchatel. when's the next time I'll be in sheffield? what I don't do today I might not get the chance to do again for years and by that time, everything might have changed. so I have to do everything now - and it's exhausting.
I'm sitting here in the peace gardens writing this. I'll type it up later. it's day 4 of The Heat Wave. 24 degrees and the first time I've been out in sheffield and comfortable wearing summer clothes. might be the last, too, so I'm postponing my descent into the cold, sunless cave of a sound lab as long as possible. I've been here an hour and at least six sets of wedding photos have been taken in front of the fountain. now it's crawling with small children who range from fully clothed to almost nekkid. a nappy-clad one almost just escaped.
the clock just struck 11. maybe I'll go check on the fudge stand.