Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Sort of Homecoming

I went to graduate school here in San Diego, but I have not lived here for my entire post-PhD life. After graduate school, I moved to New Jersey to take a job. I wasn't unhappy in New Jersey, but I always felt like I was just a visitor there. I had friends and favorite places, and there were many things I genuinely loved about living in New Jersey. But it never felt like home.

I eventually decided to move back to the West coast, and started a job search. I still had a fair number of friends in San Diego, so it isn't really surprising that my job search primarily resulted in interviews in San Diego.

I remember flying back to San Diego for my first interview, and being met at the airport by a car service. It was late afternoon, and I have a very distinct memory of a noticeable feeling of relaxation coming over me as we drove past the small set of boat slips near the stretch of Harbor Drive that leads from the airport to Interstate 5. I looked at the boats, with the downtown San Diego skyline in the background, and I smiled, realizing that I was home.

First home. (Not my photo- I don't have one! Photo found here
That memory of the almost palpable sense of homecoming has stayed with me through the years. San Diego is still "home."

So I was a bit surprise when I felt that same sense of homecoming right after arriving in a different city.

It happened on our recent New Zealand vacation. We flew from LA to Auckland. It is an overnight flight, and we arrived groggy and feeling a bit out of sync. We fumbled through passport control and customs, and out into the arrivals terminal. I took the kids to go get a snack while Mr. Snarky went to call the budget car rental place we use.

Eventually, we got our car and headed to One Tree Hill to give the kids a view of the city and a chance to stretch their legs at a park. We drove away from the airport, past the little strip mall where Mr. Snarky and I stopped on my second arrival in Auckland for a slice and to look at the Dick Smith's for a trackball. We drove on, and I noticed how the motorway had extended since my last visit (which was while pregnant with Pumpkin). And then I caught sight of the Sky Tower, and I felt the familiar loosening of tight shoulders and indescribable feeling of rightness. I felt like I was home.

Second Home.
I didn't know what to do with this at the time, and I am still not sure. San Diego is still home, and neither Mr. Snarky nor I want to move to Auckland. I think I would like to spend more time there, though. In my perfect world, I would spend a month there every year. Of course, in the real world, this would have to be one of the winter months for the next 15 or so years, while my kids are still in school. Also, I still want to travel and see new places, so I don't really want to spend all of my vacation days in one place every year. So for now, I'll just add this as another facet of the life I'd like build. And maybe bump Lisbon up the list of places I'd like to visit, because when I described my Auckland homecoming moment to one of my friends, he knew immediately what I meant and said Lisbon was like that for him.

Do you have a place that just feels like home? Have you ever had a sense of homecoming in a place that wasn't your home?

33 comments:

  1. I feel utterly at home in the PNW. I used to live in Oregon (for a few postgraduate years), and I've never felt so good anywhere I've lived. My husband's family lives in B.C., so I get to go West every year or two. We are trying to figure out how to go every year for the summer, because it's my Happy Place, especially in the summer when the heat and humidity make me increasingly miserable. Madrid is another "home" place; I also lived there briefly (one year), and I'm so happy every time I wander around my old neighborhood.

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    1. I love the Pacific Northwest! I wonder if it would start feeling like home if I lived there? Portland seems like a nice city. One of the reasons I love San Diego is that it has a lot of the amenities of a city (good museums, etc) while still having a lot of open space, thanks in part to the beaches and bays. I think Portland might have something similar.

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    2. I think people either love it or hate it. Most of the people I know who love it are outdoorsy types, and love the easy access to nature - hikers, skiiers, kayakers in particular. I love the mist and the green of winter. I love how unabashadly joyful everyone is when the sun comes out. I love how you see a rainbow almost every day. The expression "sun showers". And those amazing farmer's markets. . .

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  2. California, even SoCal. LA starts to wear on me when I've been living there too long, but I still get that homecoming feeling when I fly in. Smog and all. I think it's the palm trees.

    That quiz in your twitter feed said Georgia for me too. I suspect if they split CA up into component parts I might fit better there. But who knows, I haven't spent a lot of time in Georgia. The time I have spent never felt like "home" though.

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    1. I'd love to look at the algorithm behind that quiz. I'm 98.9% certain I would not feel at home in Georgia!

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  3. I think scent has a remarkable ability to make something feel familiar and comforting. There are certain floral fragrances that can completely transport me back to being near a certain tree. Dogwoods, for instance. Honeysuckle too. Smell those and you're 8-years-old and it's spring and you're playing in the yard...

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    1. Zenmoo6:34 PM

      Heh, my version of that childhood smell is humidity and pollution. It used to hit as we walked out of the airport in KL after returning from holidays in Australia. That always smelt like home - but I'm not sure that it would now.

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  4. I just realized why I've had Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt stuck in my head all day. http://youtu.be/VX7pV4FlwMc

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    1. Nice! The title of the post is from U2, of course...

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  5. This is interesting... I have lived for 9 years where I am now, but I don't really feel particularly at home; I just cannot get used to the local subculture, it still feels very foreign. But I suppose I do get the "thank God I am home" feeling when I get off a plane, so in that sense it is more a home than anyplace else.
    I visited ancestral homeland last summer after many years away. Everything felt like it happened in another life -- all the places familiar but emotionally very far away. Oh well.
    For better or worse, I almost don't care where I live any more, but my kids do as this is home for them, so we're staying put for the time being.

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    1. I just did your Twitter test and it says I belong in New York. Never been there, but I am definitely too grumpy for the state where I live now.

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    2. I used to think I could live anywhere, until I moved away from San Diego!

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  6. Zenmoo6:30 PM

    I've lived in five different cities in four different countries - my two 'homes' are Perth and Christchurch. I'm still surprised by how much at home I feel in Christchurch and how at home I'm felt here in the South Island since the very first time I flew in to the city 10 years ago and saw the patchwork of the Canterbury plains edged by mountains. I had NO similar sense of being at home in Auckland or anywhere else in the North Island of NZ. For example, I love to visit Wellington - but I don't want to live there. And I remain convinced that Auckland sees me coming and puts on it's most changeable, humid weather just to piss me off.

    I have to admit actually (and DON'T tell my mother in law because she would be TOO excited that we might stay here) that I like living in Christchurch more than Perth - even with post-apocalyptic CBD (which I can't avoid because I work in the area!), the constant roadworks, more stressful job, regular panics about the house we've bought here, missing my friends.... even all that is outweighed by the short commute (our house, work and Moo's school are all 2km apart), a ski field 1.5hrs away, my husbands lovely family, the pretty good weather, easy access to the beautiful outdoors...

    And in complete contrast to all of the above - in terms of places I've visited purely on a holiday - the one place I've felt I'd really like to live is Tokyo...

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    1. I struggle to explain why Auckland feels like home. One thing I love how it is a melting pot with a mix of people so different from US cities. You can get Malaysian take out, and stumble across a Polynesian dance troupe practicing in the park. I also really love the domain (a sort of big park) and the cafes.

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    2. It's also hilly with breathtaking vistas. It's such a beautiful town. I also love taking water buses!

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    3. Zenmoo7:34 PM

      Yes, Auckland does have great cafes, a beautiful waterfront (and SO much waterfront) and is way more diverse than the South Island. It's a real city and I just had a fun weekend visiting my friend. BUT I just can't deal with the changeability of the weather. We went to the zoo and I got sunburnt AND rained on! Hot in a t-shirt and then 15 minutes later, cold... Gah! I just like my weather consistent (even if it is days of easterly drizzle in Christchurch!) We were staying with one of my friends who lives on Ponsonby Rd in an apartment in a converted villa - and it just had that awful black mold thing happening, she has to run a dehumidifier in the rooms with her books and it was cold (it also has a BEAUTIFUL view of the Sky tower and harbour and the lounge is a total sun trap) but as fun as it was to visit ... I could never live there again.

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  7. I grew up mainly in the SF Bay Area and spent considerable time in the Colorado Front Range and LA. I often visit SD, where my husband grew up. All of those places feel like home.

    Now that I've lived in LA as long as I have lived in SF, the smugness of SF really bothers me. LOL.

    When we were still living in Berkeley, we used to come to LA and visit one of my husband's college friends. I was surprised by how much I liked it and told my husband I could live in LA if I lived in that neighborhood. Now I do live in the same neighborhood and I can't believe how lucky I am.

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    1. I think LA gets an unfair bad rap. I love visiting, and exploring different neighborhoods.

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    2. Oh yeah? Well the shallowness of LA really bothers me(!) But then, smug never did bother me.

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    3. Wow. You just threw the shallowness rock at my home. I'm shocked at your response.

      In my blog, I take considerable pains to explain the difference between how LA is perceived (often due to Hollywood stereotypes) and the way it is experienced by people who actually make our lives here.

      I also should also have expressed myself better. When I wrote, "Now that I've lived in LA as long as I have lived in SF, the smugness of SF really bothers me. LOL"

      I should have written, "Now that I've lived in LA as long as I have lived in SF, I notice the SF smugness that was invisible to me when I participated in it."

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    4. I live in San Francisco, is is my beloved home, and I participate in the LA-hating smugness for sure.

      But I must admit that every time I visit LA I am humbled and in some ways envious. Their buses are clean! and new! and cost 50 cents! and seem to run on time. The metro goes places! and is clean! and runs on time! I wish I could say the same for SF Muni. I wish BART went everywhere that people need to go in the bay area.... And I've been told that southern california is now more efficient at using water than northern california is. An in terms of sprawl, my impression is that LA is really no different from the suburbs that make up Silicon Valley (I grew up in Mountain View).

      LA also has the best sushi I have ever had. But SF is still my home.

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    5. @YZ, the myth of LA is sprawl, but the city limits of LA is actually denser than NYC. I live in an urban infill townhouse in an inner ring suburb by the beach. The red line stop is about 1 km from my house and has been turned into a park. The newer LA subway (which is elevated light rail) is, sadly, 3 km away.

      Our residential neighborhood houses ~20,000 people in 1 square mile, on par with denser areas of SF and Brooklyn. My neighborhood has a walkscore in the 90s, again, on par with NYC and SF.
      http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2013/05/themefriday-hometown.html
      When you read my post, click through to the dot census map and compare the Bay Area to LA Metro. I think it will surprise most people.

      I grew up in Silicon Valley and live in LA. I think there is some truth to your comparison, but only for NEW parts of LA built in the same time frame as SV. Older parts of LA have so much character and diversity if you scratch the surface.

      No joke, there is someone who runs architectural tours of strip malls of LA. I want to take it b/c he gets rave reviews for explaining how strip malls have evolved over time due to economics, technology and the longing for home by the immigrants who built them. A strip mall in little Saigon does not look like one in the San Gabriel Valley or little India or little Ethiopia.

      You may be interested in taking a tour of my local sewage treatment and water recycling plant.
      http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2010/10/blog-action-day-2010-our-water.html

      My CSA produce is grown with water recycled from Orange County's Irvine sewage treatment plant.
      http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2012/03/world-water-day-2012.html

      We have the best reasonably priced sushi in the world outside of Sapporo. My corner of LA is home of the largest enclave of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan and no mediocre place could survive.

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    6. I'd live in LA in a heartbeat - precisely, Pasadena, if we could afford it, but it's more expensive than Seattle and commuting to work would likely be horrible. But I definitely think Seattle is my forever home, though I'd like to spend a few weeks a year in Arizona. We almost bought a house in Tucson in 2008, but ended up not doing it, and I'm thankful. We'll sort it out eventually, but now is not the time for us.

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    7. I've lived in la for 5 years as an adult and visit it fairly frequently. Yes it has shallowness. Appearances are very important. Here's our tribute to SoCal: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/you-know-youre-from-socal-if/

      Yes, people from northern ca have criticisms about SoCal, but from my view they are completely valid. Like the sunblock lady says, live there until it makes you soft (not that you would literally be able to be soft because fat is so shunned).

      Really there's no need to attack northern Californians. That's what gets my hackles up. Why do that? (I have also lived in sf and visit mountain view fairly frequently.).

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    8. @ Anandi I love Pasadena, too.

      I live in a similar neighborhood where you can't throw a rock in the local school yard w/o hitting a parent with a PhD. I love my weird little rocket scientist enclave and you certainly can't beat the weather.

      The really nice thing about living and working in a classified environment is that people aren't allowed to talk about work when they leave at night. People have all sorts of interesting hobbies, so they have something to talk about in public! ;-)

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  8. I think our home right now may be the first place I've felt that way about. I loved living in New Jersey (where did you live?), and I love the East Coast in general, but this is the first place that's felt like *mine.* I've lived in L.A. twice before, so it's more about the status of my life than about the city, I think.

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    1. I lived near Princeton (most common thing said to me when I was preparing to move there "Oh, Princeton is nice!") but if I had stayed, I would have moved up to Lambertville. That section of the Delaware river is so beautiful.

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    2. I was in Bergen County, so very different from Princeton. I'm not sure I got to Lambertville, but what I've seen of the Delaware was lovely.

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  9. Chicago. Manhattan. I know those places like the back of my hand. Glad I no longer live there though. Podunkville still doesn't seem like our forever home yet, though it most certainly is.

    I hope you get to live a month a year in Auckland. We have a similar dream, instead we're pining for Italy. We recently figured out how many days of school the kids can miss and how much time DH and I can take away from work - that's was our first step, I suppose.

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    1. I went to college in Chicago! But it never felt like home. I really like it, though. I think I prefer to live in smaller cities.

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    2. The weather was my main complaint. So humid! So unbearably cold! There were about two weeks of good weather. Since 2007, I've also come to prefer smaller cities because I hate being stuck in the car with grouchy kids.

      Smaller city life has unexpectedly translated to more school options (but perhaps not better options) for the kids than we would have had available to us in the land of $30k year private schools that reject most applicants, and magnet school lotteries for programs located halfway across town. The lack of anonymity in a smaller town took a lot of getting used to.

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  10. Oddly, the places that feel like home to me (Maine, San Francisco, rural Wyoming, southern Utah) have almost never been my home, or not for more than a few months or years. I live now in my hometown and am likely stuck here, but it has never felt like a place I love.

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