I grew up in Switzerland. But my blood is not Swiss. I’m half something and half something else. I’ve always been the ‘foreigner’ ever since I can remember. I never felt like I had ‘roots’. My second name is Barbara. Funnily enough, its meaning is actually the ‘foreigner’ or the ‘stranger’. But it also means, and this is my favourite: the ‘Traveller from a foreign land’. Perhaps, I was always destined to travel and to be a nomad. Only that it took me nearly thirty years to realise this. In between being born and setting off on a trip around the world, I tried to conform. I tried to be ‘normal’ and aimed for a settled life. I tried to mimic what people did. You know the whole: graduate, have a well-paying job, have a home with Ikea furniture, think about marriage and kids – you name it. Until I travelled to Tuscany. Little did I know when we drove through the cypress hills of San Gimignano, that my life was about to change radically.
I remember as a kid, I got excited to hop onto a plane. I loved take off and landing, and I loved waking up in a different place a few hours later. There was something so magical about looking out the window and seeing landscapes transform themselves into different shapes and shades. Other kids would throw massive tantrums when they heard the engine start. I did not. I sat there glued in my seat with both my tiny hands on the window and I would get butterflies in my tummy. Perhaps I loved going away, because it meant I got to have a little bit of a break from my home – which never felt like one. My parents were very unhappily married and my childhood was anything else but great. Stepping on a plane, in a car, in a train, was a form of escape. So, here I was, with 29, running away to Tuscany to find answers. Previously I had run away to New York when I was 16, to Australia when I was 17, to Namibia when I was 21, to London when I was 24. I was perpetually in search for this one perfect place, with fertile grounds to finally grow my roots once and for all. Like a cypress, I wanted to stand strong in one spot and grow. Feel like I was at the right place. Imagine Tuscany without cypresses? It would not be the same. How I yearned to find this place where people would say ‘this place is just not the same without you’. Is this ever going to happen?
One day, on my way home when I lived in London, I had to wait for my train at King’s Cross station. To kill some time, I went into a bookshop and went straight to the travel section. I stood there and as my eyes wandered and my brain registered all the countries…Borneo, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam… my eyes started filling up with tears and I had this voice in my head saying: ‘You need to do this. You need to travel’. I knew, if I didn’t give in to this yearning, I was delaying living a life true to myself yet again. How long will I keep doing this? And why on earth do I need to conform, in the first place? It is my life! I can do with it whatever I want! Maybe the answer does not lie in finding this one place. Maybe the answer lies with traveling to many places and finding myself.
But what about him…? So, I ignored these feelings for a little while longer.
It had always been on my bucket list to spend my Birthday in Tuscany. Ever since I watched the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, I knew I wanted to visit one day. Here I was, immensely happy but also deeply saddened at the same time. I was fulfilling a dream – but the thought of going back to the ugly glass building back in London made me flinch. And then after hours of driving, I saw them for the first time in my life: the famous cypress hills. We meandered through the hills in our little Fiat and again, like so many times before, my hands touched the window and my eyes started filling up with tears as the beauty of what was around me took me away. As the car stopped, I turned around to Ben and I said “I can’t go back to this job anymore.” He knew in this moment, that no matter how great my love was for him, my one true love had always been all the places I was yet to discover. One thing that was even more impossible than letting me go, was to keep me in one place forever.
I handed in my resignation. I felt I had walked out of prison. I walked out of the office and into the wild. There I was, unemployed but immensely happy and relieved. I returned my badge and as I was looking back to the tall building, I remembered the cypresses. I was absolutely clueless what to do next.
For my Birthday, Ben surprised me with the most wonderful gift. The present was a world map which he had glued onto a board. He handed me a little box of pins. He said that if I did decide to go on a world-trip then I would need a board like this so I could plan it properly and pin down the destinations I wanted to visit. We would have a long-distance relationship – and we would make it work somehow. I was so touched and felt an immense love for this man, who loved me so unconditionally. He was prepared to let me go, so I could fulfil my dream. And yet, I still did not feel like I was ready to go. Like a small child who learns to walk…I felt I still needed to hold on to something stable for a bit longer. What if I fell? How hard would it hit me?
Then, a few months later, out of the blue, I started pinning some dream destinations on my board while Ben was at work. I phoned travel agencies for ’round the world’ ticket quotes. I remember standing in the kitchen, my head lowered staring at the floor. I said to him “I think I want to travel the world” not knowing what this would mean for us. He hugged me and we stood there for a while and he said “I’m going to miss you, but you have to do it – we will make this work.”
We stood there for what felt like an eternity. And I shook my head as I realised the paradox of my life:
I had forever wandered to grow my missing roots. I had forever fought my nomadic existence, thinking that it was the sign of a derailed personality – something that I had to forget if I ever wanted to have a normal life. I had forever looked for the perfect man, who wanted to be with me no matter what and with whom I would eventually settle down. Now that I have found him, I finally realize who I am. I am a born nomad. I am my own kind of normal. I’m a restless soul with a thirst for life – for the unknown. I am who I am. I have no roots – I am no tree – and that is ok. And that is as normal as I’ll ever be.
“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”
― Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun