I’ve often wondered what it is like to live in two places. This condition seems common among authors: on the back-cover of a book one finds, every now and then, a description of someone who “lives in New Delhi and London” or “divides her time between New York and Paris”. What sort of a life is it, dividing time between two societies, two cultures, two groups of people? What does one gain, and at what cost? I never thought I’d be rich enough to afford a life like that, but life is strange: it answers your wishes in ways you could hardly imagine.
Since about an year and half I have been, in a way, living in two places. On weekdays I’m in my town, south of Germany; on weekends – many, if not all – I travel to where Wife lives. Last year, when she was at business school, the destination was Lausanne; this year, since she started working again, it’s been Brussels. The arrangement isn’t one bit like the authors I mentioned before: they probably have periods of extended stays in either location, a luxury I cannot afford. My experience has been mixed, and has involved plenty of travel, diversity and accumulation.
The idea of travel is mostly associated with business (traveling to a conference) or pleasure (traveling to the beach resort). The sort of travel I do on the weekends is neither; one could call it a mix between spousal obligation and a desire for change. There is little planning involved: on Friday evening I throw some essentials into a bag and start driving. Unless there’s a jam, it’s a five hour drive; I take a couple of breaks in between, to refill the tank, to have a coffee or simply to feel the wind outside. The music is almost never what’s on radio, but something consistent, long and complicated: like an opera or a classical concert piece. The onward journey is always better – the weekend is ahead – and what always strikes me on my way back is that where you are does not matter as much as which way you are going.
The change of place every other weekend does a lot of good. I live in what is often described, not without reason, as a “sleepy town” and Wife has – on both occasions – been a city dweller, where the pace of life is different, the people are different, the language is different: refreshing changes, and always welcome. Another home – a living space – opens new possibilities: in Brussels, Wife stays in a high-rise building, and I spend hours simply looking at the Brussels skyline….
… and on occasion at neighbours picnicking on their rooftops.
A second home also serves as a base offering possibilities of further exploration, an advantage we are yet to make full use of in Brussels. From what little I’ve seen of the city so far, I think it merits the label of European Union’s capital: it seems to have a bit of everything, from elegance to squalor, a mix of old and new, people variously coloured and weather that changes before you can spell RAIN. The other day we walked into a street where a bazaar had sprung up, with all manner of old and used stuff displayed in stalls next to the footpath. A convenient way to get rid of unwanted house-hold goods, I thought.
My mind at that moment was on something I had been pondering over for a while: a second home also means two of most things, including household “essentials” needed in any modern dwelling: TV, DVD player, Washing Machine, Vacuum Cleaner, Iron Box, furniture of all sorts, Cutlery & Crockery…. the list goes on. I often wonder what we would do with them once Wife and I begin to live together again. The big items can be sold, but my concern lies behind the small things we accumulate but rarely need: my own apartment is full of such things that have somehow managed to slip into the house over the last six years, and I shudder to imagine the prospect of bringing that lot together with all of what Wife would have picked up at her apartment over the next year(s). To make matters worse, the influx has grown after we’ve setup two homes: in order to avoid carrying along things from one house to another each weekend, we’ve duplicated many things in both apartments; I now have two toothbrushes, two shaving kits, two home slippers, two sets of towels…
In a way, I’ve only just begun. There’s at least an year of this mode of living ahead of me, which means more travel, variety and accumulation. I’ll certainly have more to say on this topic after it all ends: one begins to understand the true nature of things only with time, and distance.