I have been listening to Sting’s Englishman in New York for the last hour. It is one of the top songs which always make me reflect on a modern nomadic lifestyle and changing places. How do you stay yourself in the changing circumstances? Where’s the real “I”? Can one grow so accustomed to a new place that it becomes natural and “homey”? Or is one always an Englishman in New York? A European across the ocean? A Polish girl in the UK? A Gdańsk-born girl in Cracow? Or Warsaw? Or anywhere in the world?
Many of my friends from all over the world whom I have met in London started saying after a few months (up to a year) in London “I’m a Londoner… we’re such Londoners”. Everytime I heard that I thought “Really? I still feel new to this city, I still feel a tourist here…”. But something changed at the beginning of my third year at university in London. I was flying to London end of August last year and when I hopped on the tube from Heathrow to central London, something felt familiar. Then I got off the tube and looked at the city. Breathed in. Breathed out. And I thought “I’m back” – not as a tourist, but as if I was back home. It would never be home-home, but a second-home – yes. I have my very own secret places in this big city, I have been to the tourist spots at times when no tourists get there which gives a totally different perspective… I was not a guest there. I have experienced so much in this town. Met so many people who often were a challenge to my views, assumptions, expectations. So many words. So many questions. So many moments of silence. All very meaningful. And those not meaningful at all, at least at first.
Besides, I had to deal with the prose of daily life, paperwork, paying bills, council tax, landlords, housing agencies and such. Making decisions when the ceiling fell down and suddenly everyone was on holiday. Trying to find relatively healthy food in the town where you get everything packed, just put it in the microwave for five minutes and ta-dam, done, ready to eat. And all the other “adult life” stuff. Many of which I have never or hardly ever done before.
For me it is all about experiencing a place on as many levels as possible. I have lived in Cracow for half a year and it did not work out for me at all. I know the city, I like it, there are places I feel sentimental about. But it’s not exactly “my” city. Maybe a few months was not enough? Maybe the painful experiences were too much? I do not know. But when I happen to be in Cracow, I feel I am a guest there. Warsaw… well, I have always been very critical of Warsaw. And I still am. But it happened so that I am spending July here and had to find a way to get on with Poland’s capital. And I think I did – mostly by finding great running routes. As I have moved places today, I am going to explore the city anew tomorrow morning. Perhaps I will not call Warsaw my second, third, fourth, or any other home – as it is still the Warsaw where people stare at you and expect to be trendy, classy, shopping in boutiques and drinking coffee in the it-cafes (not that I never do that) – but at least I feel good here. I am perfectly fine with it.
There is one more thing I want to share. As much as I believe it takes time to be at home in a place which is not one’s hometown, I feel extremely “at home” flying. I love airports, I love the atmosphere, I love flying itself. Sometimes I get mad there, true. Well, who does not? But overall, I feel so good from the moment I arrive at an airport till I leave the other airport… I already miss flying. Four weeks left, and I will have three flights in less than 24 hours and the same on my way back from the Caucasus… Will see if it still makes me that happy.