I returned from Croatia two days ago, about to start a frantic writing marathon in order to meet a looming book deadline in early September. My return to New York got me thinking about home. Is it here, in my cozy Brooklyn apartment and these streets I’ve walked the last 11 years? Or maybe it’s back in Croatia, in the country house that now sits half-abandoned, where four generations of my family lived until not too long ago.
A friend recently shared a theory that she read about in a book. According to it, family estates carry a special significance for members of the said family. One such place where one’s ancestors have lived and communed with each other and the nature around the house has a special healing power for the heirs. It’s all written in the trees, in the grass, and even in the animal world that stops by to feed at the estate.
Even though the theory sounded abstract and New Age-y, it really resonated with me. My family’s crumbling estate of Poklek in Croatia’s countryside came to mind. Perhaps it’s because I feel such peace every time I walk into the mansion, its thick ancient walls hiding over a century of family secrets since my great-grandfather purchased the estate, for a pittance. My great-great-grandmother, Justina Eisen von Eisenthal (who spoke only German), spent her old age on Poklek, and passed away in one of the upstairs rooms. Every time I find myself at the house, I feel my ancestors’ presence. And so soothing it is. Yet it confuses me. If it feels so right to be there, where is really home?
So when a couple of weeks ago I received an email from a dear friend who works as editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine in Berlin, asking whether I could answer a few questions for an article she’s working on about the concept of an “ache for home/ache for faraway”, I felt happy to probe myself on the matter. Here’s why my friend reached out, describing me as “a genuine 21st century travelaholic… an adopted New Yorker with roots in a nation that doesn’t really exist in the shape that it used to”.
I tried to keep my answers ‘stream of consciousness’, to really tap into how I felt about that sense of home. Here’s one of the answers: “I feel homesick all the time. Perhaps that’s because I don’t really have a single home and often feel I should be elsewhere. That elsewhere haunts me.” The only place in this world where ‘elsewhere’ seems to slip away and become irrelevant is my family’s country house. So is that perhaps where I belong?