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Home again, home again

Stan Gotlieb

In the late summer of 1996, the weary traveler reflects on a long time spent away from home. (Pictured are the ruins at Yagul, near Oaxaca ). Photography by Diana Ricci

Got my ticket in my pocket, and I'm Oaxaca bound (paraphrase of "Alabamy Bound" by Lynyrd Skynyrd).

Old blues refrains bounce around inside my skull. With one week to go, and the finish line in sight, I am a record-taping, clothes-buying, computer-software-installing, cyber- networking dervish, trying to complete an ever growing list of tasks before I return home.

It has been over three months since I set my sights on El Norte. A strange odyssey through familiar and unfamiliar territories, to friends old and new, with expectations crushed and expectations realized. And always and everywhere there has been, just beneath the surface of things, a niggling feeling of unreality; of strangeness; of un-belonging.

For better or worse, I have become - in the sense of "outside", rather than in the sense of "dispossessed of" - a man without his country: not at home in the country of my birth, and a foreigner where I live. My home is a state of mind. It is where Diana is; where my clothes reside; where they send my bills.

I suppose I have been a seeker of distant climes ever since I ran away from home to go to kindergarten at the age of four. Undeterred by the getting lost and being brought back in ignominy by the local cops, I did it again soon after (but was more careful to chart my course so that I didn't get lost). No surprise, then, that I do it still. It's in the blood.

Between then and now, I have lived in roughly fifteen locations, in nine states or provinces of four countries on three continents. With the exception of three places, all in the US, none were "home", until Oaxaca.

Some sage once said that the trouble with malcontents is that there is no satisfying them. As a malcontent born and bred, I resemble that remark. But that's not the whole story by a long trajectory. The discerning perfectionist understands that malcontentism (hah!) takes many forms. At one end are the curmudgeons, who see no need to go anywhere. At the other end are the true vagabonds, who see no need to stay anywhere.

I fall somewhere in between. No matter where I am, no matter how exotic or hospitable, I get these urges: go to location x, see what it's all about. I call it my itchy foot. Blues singers refer to it as a "traveling bone". Whatever it's called, I can't explain how or why these urges come upon me, but for better or worse I get them; and these days, I mostly let them go. Perhaps I have become more content in my latest home. Perhaps I am getting more curmudgeonly as I age. Perhaps everyone has a predefined capacity for adventure, and my tank is getting full. Perhaps. But I don't think so.

I hate to say it, but I think it's Oaxaca. I think I have found a nearly perfect home. Everyone has more than one available (Morocco has always intrigued me, and the island of Madagascar), but one will do. I feel - dare I say it? - so content there. So comfortable. Zocalo life is not for everyone, but I like it. Drinking bottled water and washing your produce in clorox is not for everyone, but I don't mind it. Being unable to find certain essentials like horseradish, blueberries and balsamic vinegar might be annoying, but if the need gets bad enough, there's always a bus to MexCity.

Anyway, where else would I go? As any confirmed malcontent will cheerfully tell you, nothing's perfect.

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Published or Updated on: January 1, 1999 by Stan Gotlieb © 1999
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