Closer to Home

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There is a smell of tanker oil hovering over where Miho and I lay out on this small beach of the Albany Bulb. She’s the one new friend I’ve made here and parallel paths have brought us together.

We roll over the first days of arriving into the city. The great swinging pendulum. The white canvas of each day stretching endlessly with no work or responsibilities to fold over the edges.

Once again I have to decide where to go. The passing of hours. One’s own room becomes a cell? The overwhelmingness of empty space, the bursts of ecstatic feeling.

Each new day demands to be filled without the distraction of movement. To travel is always a distraction of some kind. Eventually you have return to your immobile self.

She tells me about giving up on the pressure to succeed after her stint in the corporate world. I tell her about giving up on my idea to write.

I never imagined that writing would become the language of silence. To say nothing, when one could be writing, seemed inconceivable to me, incongruent, even scandalous! One had to react, had to defend the honor of language… I searched for form, some sign, but was only met with silence… deep, opaque, deaf, horrible.

This beach is the outcome of a citizens campaign to reclaim this former dump into a public park. A pelican dives in what used to be a vast marshland.

The site is strangely beautiful.  Concrete slabs and rebar have been aesthetically positioned and graffitied. Paths lead to gypsy type encampments, angled blue tarps and solar panels. Across the divide, the sun hangs to the east of the Golden Gate bridge, over some of the most costly real estate in the world.

‘It’s a grey area’ a resident tells us in response to our question about whether the City of Albany allows the settlements. She looks like an average, middle-aged American woman. ‘Municipal committees are forming,’ she continues, ‘but so long as were good they let us stay.’

This site is a testament to the resilience of nature. Acacias, broom and fennel continue their climb along concrete sculptures. I am reminded of the industrial feel of New Brighton and Crab Park back home, my favourite parks in the city. They are more honest somehow.  I wonder if (Western) humanity should get to witness unspoilt landscapes anymore.

Miho tells me she needs a change of scene from the city. She invites me to join her for a ten day road trip- San Diego, Joshua Tree Park, maybe even the Great Canyon. I am tempted, (Go South!) but something is nagging me.

I realize despite the temporality of my experience here, I have started to make a home.

Partly it’s my bakery lady who knows the schedule of my pastry fix. Partly it’s the volunteer work, the stack of books and the few literary events that are shaping my canvas here.

It is not so much the lily walls or the single serving coffee pot of my room, but more of this space that I am cultivating. The mesmerizing pull of the pen that is suddenly fierce now that I have given up on accomplishing anything.

I haven’t been that social lately. I am grateful for the company, the conversation, but quickly ache to get back to my ‘home.’ Have I suffered my solitude enough to come out on the other side, to that small opening of which I now feel protective?

I get to come ‘here’ once a year at least I promise myself, regardless of place.

In my head, I was becoming this whole other person, someone I didn’t even know yet. And I would get to laugh, cry, learn things, like things, disappoint people, disappoint myself, make mistakes, get ahead no matter what, do it for myself, later do it for family, sing, dance, be alone, panic, shout, make love, run, die a little, fall down, out of myself, wake up and feel very cold.

Abdellah Taïa

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