‘How can you do this? How can you live in this way?’ These were the two questions that my old friend P. asked me one evening of twelve years ago. They resonate in my memory. they have been with me all these years and have accompanied me in various countries and travels patiently waiting for a reply. Not sure I have one, though.
There is a price to be paid in every choice. The famous other side of the coin, the Jing of the Jiang. One of the main costs to be paid by living and working overseas is the reduce contact with long time friends. By this I mean, those few friends that when you meet them you just need the time to drink a glass of a nice prosecco to re-connect. That friendship, as many other things in life when we are young, seems unchangeable and unalterable. But is is not so. Friendship, as many of those unchangeable aspects of life that we thinks are unchangeable when we are young, needs to be cultivated. Time needs to be spent and an effort made to re-connect. The re-connection occurs if time and effort are invested in order to meet as we did that winter of twelve years ago.
So, there we were. Out from a nice sauna. Wearing our towels. Sitting on the floor and talking about life sipping a cold and refreshing beer. I was had already been abroad for few years but mainly in Europe and therefore with the possibility to travel back to Italy or receive visits abroad.
‘How can you do this’? How can you live in this way?’, he asked me. By this he meant on the one hand how could I move from country to country, apparently without a plan and on the other hand, where did I find the nervous and emotional energy to do it. I remember considering my answer to that. It took me a while because at first I did not understand the question. We were there, in a fairly remote corner of Finland. Outside everything trapped in the silence of the snow. We had a relaxing sauna. We would have a nice risotto al tartufo which was being prepared by M. downstairs. We would drink a very good red wine. There was our friendship. Our language. Wasn’t that enough?
I was in love then. I was trying to deny it as things were not going very well. But I was in love. I knew of course that love is changeable and erratic, but it was one of the strong driving force for taking my chances and being there that winter. I did not know then that I was also risking friendship. Friendship was for me the solid background, the direct line to back home a back home which was growing more and more distant as I was changing, but felt (a bit arrogantly I must say) that friendship was much harder to be touched by time and distance.
‘You just decide to go and take what comes’, I replied to P. ‘You make a decision and follow on it taking the consequences’. Once you decide, once you go past that split second where not only your mind but also your heart says yes, that it is done you cannot turn back.’
‘I understand. But how about you habits, the friends, the people, the feeling of home instead of your being around and in a sense homeless?’ he asked me.
‘I do not feel without those. We are here, we are meeting in this new place. This is what is special to me. It is not so important where we meet.’, I replied and sip from my bottle.
Thinking about that conversation, I think there was in me a hint that despite being in this special place were were starting to talk different language. It was a language linked to different needs which we felt and that resulted in me being abroad and P, staying back home. It was just a hint, but I worked around it through the alibi that friendship is unchangeable and that we could maybe have these conversations and moments every winter, at every Christmas a a regular meeting of friends who have taken different directions and routes, but keep in their diary one time in the year when they would get together.
It did not occur of course. It was a nice hope, though. Abroad became farther and farther for me so that it became more and more difficult to meet my friends. I grew more distant and at some point could not bare the thought of being back home not even for a short visit. So the years passed. Internet somehow helped, but I grew more distant and isolated. Worked a lot on my social feeling, as Adler would put it, by working in development but denied the importance of friendship as the link with something more that just back home: my roots, the values, the sense of belonging and coming from one specific place and an identity that living abroad enriches with experiences but also inevitably blurs and makes more uncertain.