Mattia is the son of Claudiaexpat, and has lots to say about growing up abroad. In this article, for which we deeply thank him, he explores the concept of home.
A year back, I had began writing an article for my mother’s website, in which, through careful examination, I concluded that my home was Jerusalem. It struck me as natural at the time to think of Jerusalem as the only place that could be included in that list. That is, until I moved to Madrid.
After a month of living here, I realised the complexity of the question my mother had asked me: where is home for you?
Instinctively, I would say Jerusalem. The holy city has meant much to me, and it has shaped me as a person and a writer. I spent my adolescence there, and the conflict, alongside the friends I made, had a deep impact on the way I see the world.
Not only was I blissfully happy, I was aware of the levels of pain, injustice and hardship a community can go through, all the while having to understand that somehow, life continued, and somehow, people had to normalise these situations. It showed me how deep human contradiction can go, and how readily we accept it in order to survive.
I still consider Jerusalem home. The sole memory of walking its streets awakens a warmth happiness within me. I crave the sounds of the Arabic language, the hummus and the shawarmas, the Marlboro Red stink and the familiar faces of the city.
I often think of the golden dome and the view from my house, the balcony of the second apartment I lived in, and the mornings spent skipping school in cafés, clumsily trying to give it a go at writing novels and stories, chain-smoking and dangerously nearing caffeine overdoses.
A city is made of places and their memory, and they haunt me to this day. Jerusalem remains pivotal to my writing, and I still hold my friendships dearly. Jerusalem is still home. However, here in Madrid, I discovered that home is not reduced to a place, but a cacophony of places, memories and cultures.
There are many facets to the person I am that stem from unlikely places. I’m the only one in my family to watch and follow a football team up close. I used a Milanese team to defend my identity when I felt lost, back in my university days, when people could not understand but to box me in a country, a single place. Italian, Milan, Inter supporter.
It’s a lifted weight for a third-culture child to admit that a certain loyalty lies somewhere specific.
Similarly, I went to study in the United Kingdom, although I had spent my whole life in the French system. An unhealthy obsession with Oxford and a fascination for the English language, which seemingly spawned from curiosity, drove me to pick the United Kingdom as my fifth country of expatriation. I thought I would eventually call the United Kingdom home, as I had before with each country I lived in. I was wrong, as often in my life.
I lived in England torn by two sides of who I thought I was. Jerusalem, and Italy. I felt I belonged in Palestine, and rationalised I was Italian, and belonged there. During those years, I tried to connect with my Italian roots. I did a trip across Italy, visited Venice repeatedly for internships and holidays, discovered Turin, Bologna, learnt recipes and (unsuccessfully) tried to understand my land’s wine, and began a novel set in the Piedmonts hills. I read in Italian as never before, reinvigorated my passion for Inter Milan Football Club, read about the politics and the history of my country. Jerusalem kept looming in the background. Eventually, it resurfaced, and I could not deny it any longer. Jerusalem was, and still is, home.
It’s a lifted weight for a third-culture child to admit that a certain loyalty lies somewhere specific. It clarifies things. I thought that the realisation that Jerusalem was indeed my home would help me in the forward direction of my life, and it has, but not in the way I expected.
However much my friends proclaimed me as part of Jerusalem, I knew I had a different place in the holy city than them. It’s simple: I am not a Jerusalemite, nor an Italian. I am both, not in equal measures, and not in every aspect of the person I am. Although I discovered, as I moved to Madrid, that it is not as simple as I thought.
I moved to Madrid in September 2019, after completing my last assignment for my Masters programme in England. I had lived in the United Kingdom for five years, three in the freezing cold of Durham, and two in London, a city which I had grown to love and despise in equal measure.
In Madrid, I returned to the closest thing I had to Jerusalem, a friendship I have kept alive and healthy in all these years. I now live with this friend, and Jerusalem has seeped back into my kitchen, my habits, and my ears. I hear Arabic, keep up to date with the friends I have left behind there, and gorge myself on delicious Palestinian dishes. At the same time, upon arriving in Madrid, I kept meeting Peruvians, and they reminded me of something I had hidden deep within, which is my time in Peru as a child.
I lived in Peru roughly from age seven to twelve. I had my first cigarette in Peru, my first beer, my first kiss. I spoke like a limeño, knew the prices for taxis better than the drivers and reeked of leche de tigre, cilantro and chili. I was, by all effects, Peruvian, and with time, that part of myself diluted to the point it almost vanished.
In Madrid, the electrician placing the internet was Peruvian. The hairdresser was Peruvian. The girl at the café in the corner was Peruvian. They all spoke with a tone I remembered, and I found myself slipping in Peruvianisms as naturally as when I was twelve. Spanish in Spain is spoken differently, and the influx of my voice and parlance touched people far away from their home. I felt accepted. Conversation flowed, more than it would ever do with a Spaniard.
…home, as a concept, is as malleable as any other.
The electrician told me of his love life, and invited me to eat in a Peruvian restaurant around the corner. The hairdresser told me of his brother’s escape from Peru, where he had started frequenting gangs, doing drugs, and facing trials, and of his own hard beginnings in Spain. He gave me his number and told me to link up for a beer some time. The girl at the café is all smiles and laughs when I say chibolo, jato, jamear, webon and ya la hicimos. At the restaurant, recommended by Leonardo the electrician, the waiter Carlos recognises me. I’ve been twice. There’s chicha morada, causa, tamales, lomo saltado and anticuchos just like there was in Lima. The TV is always on, with Peruvian music blasting through, and Cuzqueña, the first beer I ever had, features in all fridges and corners of the restaurant. I caught myself feeling at home in the Rinconcito Cuzqueño.
Madrid had taught me its first lesson: home, as a concept, is as malleable as any other. Home is a cacophony of places, memories and cultures, and each place you once call home sticks to you. In Madrid, I understood finally that home is not restricted to a physical place, nor a single idea. Home is where you feel you belong, be it at a hairdresser’s, an apartment, or eating maklouba and following Brexit developments. Home is following the football team of your city, drinking chicha morada and eating ceviche in a Peruvian restaurant, downing a pint of ale in Brixton, and walking down the Old City in Jerusalem, all at once. Importantly, I learned that home, when you live it like this, is a luxury.