Home is more than a mere geographic reference; the emotional significance of home is much deeper than that. We seem to need a place of sanctuary where we can have a break from the inevitable stresses of interacting in a larger world. For us, home has always been a very special place.
A relocation within a native homeland carries stresses enough but relocating to a different country only multiplies the dislocation issues involved. Among the complexities of a major relocation to a far distant place is the disruption to a comfortable feeling of where home now actually exists. It seems accepting a place to be called home does not come instantly. That feeling only seems to grow over time with an overlaying accumulation of events and emotional experiences that provide reassurance. In adapting to Expatriate life, as expected, some additional time has been required for us to reach a level of emotional comfort in a new and different place before it has started to really feel like home.
In a recent post, we discussed our plan to return to California this past summer to not only visit family and friends but to sort through items left in storage, dispose of some things and then ship the remainder to Ascoli Piceno. Sorting and deciding what to ship and what was to be disposed of was both physically and emotionally exhausting. But we had reached a stage of comfort with our lives in Ascoli that having items that have been part of our lives for so long around us again would further solidify the feeling of establishing a new home. As expected, the dynamics of accomplishing the shipment were complex. Matters proceeded more comfortably on the U.S. end than in Italy. More on that in a separate commentary of our experience under the heading of ‘Logistics II.’
Bound for the U.S., we left Rome by air in mid-June for New York. We returned to Ascoli during the first week of August – seven weeks on the go and just a couple of weeks before the earthquake experience Arlene recently wrote about. We started with a visit with my brother, the lady in his life plus our nephew and his family. Arlene then went on to Florida to visit with her mom and step-dad and I proceeded to California to get the complex shipment logistics in motion. After seeing her mom, Arlene then joined me in San Diego.
The visits with family and friends were a very important part of this long trip. We had a warm welcome extended to us in San Diego by friends who provided hospitality to us. It was a wonderful way to informally ‘catch up.’ Most of these friends had already visited us in Ascoli. We also stayed in a pleasant Airbnb rental cottage in a garden setting and enjoyed the privacy and reduced concern about imposing on friends.
It didn’t take long before some complex feelings began to set in. After having lived in San Diego for so long, I didn’t need a map to know where I was and how to drive to where I wanted to go. The sights we were seeing all looked very familiar but there was a definite difference. We no longer personally identified with what we were seeing. Yes, being comfortable around family and old friends was wonderful but it also became very clear, we no longer felt what we were seeing and experiencing in the larger community felt like home. We weren’t home any longer. We were now just visitors in a familiar place.
Southern California is a very dynamic place. New construction seemed to be everywhere. After an absence of three years, we were struck by the increased density and congestion on the freeways. We started one morning a little after 7:00 AM to make an under eight mile trip for a routine check-up at the office of a medical services provider. We arrived for our 8:00 AM appointment at 8:30 AM. With the increased density on the roads there has also been a marked decrease in driving civility – a remark echoed by our family and friends. My negative commentaries on some Italian driving habits has had to be moderated. A difference I now sense is the Italians may still tailgate at high speed closer than some Americans. In higher density living, inconsiderate, high risk-taking driving behavior seems to have become just one more of the increasing signs of the consequences of a decrease in social cohesion in the times we are living in.
When it comes to increased density and some of the impersonalization and other ills that come with it, more than one person we encountered in San Diego indicated they were distressed that ‘Los Angeles was in process of spreading to the Mexican Border.’ That is a highly pejorative statement as Los Angeles is seen to be synonymous with chaotic urban sprawl, congestion and an absence of a sense of community cohesion.
I recognize, in an effort to feeling better integrated into Ascoli Piceno and to justify the decision to come here, we are likely to filter and express some of our Expatriate perceptions to see things in the most positive light. While that is more than likely influencing our perceptions, there is the reality that our still maturing capacity to more fully communicate in Italian is an impediment to becoming assimilated into Ascoli life. Yes, we can now function adequately to accomplish most of the daily tasks but that is not the same as interacting freely in one’s mother tongue. So in that sense, we should have felt more ‘at home’ in San Diego but we didn’t.
It was inescapable that the United States is in the midst of a highly polarized presidential election. The unfortunate reality is the United States has not done anything near an adequate job of recovering from the ills of the so-called Great Recession of 2008. Not only did many, including ourselves, suffer significant financial losses from which there has been inadequate recovery but the underlying financial structural issues that contributed significantly to that crisis have not been adequately addressed. It was obvious that a general sense of apprehension and vulnerability pervades the contemporary American mood.
While a certain degree of skepticism on the political process is probably a healthy component in a Democracy, it has become very clear many have lost faith that their government is committed to function with the best interests of the citizens in mind. And that cynicism is not limited to the U.S. Such is the consequence of the prevalence of Oligarchy when a powerful few have aggregated unto themselves control over much of the financial resources and with that, have achieved a significant influence over the political process.
The amount of underlying anxiety and general anger on the part of many Americans was inescapable. Americans have traditionally been perceived of as proud optimists. Much less so these days. There are multiple signs of discontent, deep rooted fear and apprehension about the future. In my estimation, the gun epidemic in the United States epitomizes the exploitation, in the name of profit, of the feeling of vulnerability many Americans have. It is evident, the exploitation of fear and the blatant generation of anxiety have burgeoned as a strategy for political manipulation going back at least thirty to forty years.
We perceived a number of indications of the depth of fear and misdirected anger on the part of some of our fellow American citizens. One acquaintance who does accounting, commented to us that she was, “Voting for (a particular presidential candidate) because I want other countries to fear us!” Can there be a clearer statement of being gripped by irrational anxiety in facing the world than a statement like that?
There is a sense of dismay in some quarters that one of the presidential candidates has come this far. But more than one person observed that particular candidacy was much more of a symptom of the underlying anxiety rooted in economic and political structural ills that are not only gripping America but other counties as well. Too many have become cynical whether the existing economic and political structure is operating to enhance their lives. However, having a vocal outlet to reaffirm personal frustration is hardly the same thing as presenting sound and rational solutions to complex issues. We hope a sufficient percentage of the American electorate figure that out before November.
In the United Kingdom the so-called Brexit vote was seen largely as a protest against a status quo which was not meeting the needs of the people. But the upshot seems to be the protesters have probably only aggravated the ills they are facing by isolating themselves in an increasingly globalized economy. The lesson to be gained from the British is clear – be very careful how you express your anger and frustration – it can backfire on you!
We became aware that we no longer felt as comfortable in the United States as we had back in more optimistic times. Things we once blithely accepted as a part of life now stood out in a more negative, bold relief. The proliferation and grip of mass commercial consumerism was inescapable against the backdrop of our current experience. The cultural event of the weekend for too many seemed to be to go to the mall to go shopping. By comparison to our growing perceptions of life in Italy, Americans seem to live in contrived isolation from each other.
We remain proud and feel blessed to be citizens of the United States. But three years of Expatriate experience has exposed us to another reality — there are better alternatives to an American, aggressive, commercial consumerism. Yes, Italy has problems too but at this point, after having had a fresh experience in the place we came from, the place we came to has very much begun to feel much more like home.