"I had dropped one form and not taken on the other, the inevitable fate of the man who could see things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments."
So wrote T E Lawrence. The traveller who moves abroad, embraces another culture, immerses himself in it, finds that he has been changed forever by the experience and cannot ever fully return. This simple truth is my everyday companion.
An insider in one place is an outsider in another. Whoever has one foot in each place cannot have two feet in either. The traveller ceases to fully belong anywhere, though loving several places. That is fate, a two-edged sword. Like those who wander the deep forest, the traveller may emerge unscathed but certainly will not walk on unchanged.
I feel homeless. Not literally, of course, and not rootless either. Perhaps I have too many roots? But I don't feel as if I belong anywhere in particular. I love the hills around here, and yet they feel sterile, almost unpeopled, their history barely remembered. Perhaps I judge harshly? But where are the neighbours and fellow travellers with whom I may share my enthusiasm? Still, I have roots here, more spiritual than genealogical. It's as if I am glancing far back to find meaning.
I'm looking far away too, over sea and mountains and plains. I found adventure in that Carpathian domain. Meaning, too, for it was a formative place. A transformational realm. Perhaps I do not need to return. Probably not. But I would like to.
I was still trying to understand that land and I hadn't finished my work there. It's tempting to believe that I let people down because my plan unravelled. At least, unlike T E Lawrence, I'm not obsessed by it. My influence was limited. When the world is changing, who can swim against the tide?
I write that I would like to return. But it was an arbitrary dwelling. It was convenient. I embraced that place, and it returned the favour. A damaged land it was, too, and in that we were well matched. Damaged, not broken. I've grown, it has too. Maybe we've grown apart? Or better able to accept one-another's faults? I'd like to say that I've learned to live in an imperfect place without undue frustration. That was the hardest part of living in a post-communist society - accepting the imperfection that others did not seem to care about. Unfortunately the West is qualitatively little better.
Thinking about the next formative place is more purposeful than focusing upon the past. But will it be a place on the map? Or somewhere within the mind? It's not as if I can abandon my work to set off in search of it. Anyway, downing tools to travel is just too obvious. It smacks of running away. I want to move ahead. That revolves around becoming wiser and more adaptable, not finding a hiding place or joining the fruitless search for utopia.
Lawrence escaped to his rustic cottage, Clouds Hill. Was he happy? Others ran further. Patrick Leigh Fermor, touched like me by Romania, built a lovely cottage in Greece. He wrote beautifully of his adventures, and had a lot of fun along the way - mostly funded by others - but is action really the main aim of life?
I shouldn't be dismissive. I do love Leigh Fermor's writing, and I wouldn't have minded the opportunity to travel Middle Europe from castle to party to manor house amidst entertaining company. For this I was born half a century too late! Chronology notwithstanding, it has been said that "the civilised are those who get more out of life than the uncivilised, and for this we are unlikely to be forgiven." It's true, there is a great deal to be got out of life. That's another good reason not to dream too hard about disappearing into a Balkan village. No, let the search for formative environments continue. They exist.