The Scattered Heart of the Expat

For all that he may have been a first-class shit, there is something that I have in common with Lord Voldemort. It’s not murdering small children, nor wheezing through my nostril slits. It’s not even swooping majestically around in black robes (scrap that, we absolutely do have that in common).

It’s the feeling that little bits of my soul are hiding in different places.*

I have properly lived in five cities. Make new friends, put art on the walls, host dinner parties lived. Cities where, having come back from a long weekend away, you would dump your bags in the hall, put the kettle on, and say,

‘Oh, it’s good to be home!’

Five places to call home. Five places where you feel like a little piece of your heart is still waiting, dreaming, its tendrils softly rooted in the earth. Five cities that, if they appear on tv, you sit up like proud parent and stare intently at the screen.

‘I used to live there!’ you’ll say, perhaps to no-one.

What is that feeling, of seeing somewhere that you used to live, through such a distant medium? Is it pride? Nostalgia? Love? All I know is that it makes me feel a little teary if I see Melbourne, Berlin or Edinburgh in a film or in a magazine.

‘Mine,’ I’ll whisper.

Interestingly, it’s the cities in which the fewest of my friends remain that have the biggest emotional pull for me. Perhaps because there is nobody there to gently take off my rose-tinted spectacles, and remind me that everywhere has its ups and downs. As I am drawn to other travellers, it’s not unusual to find that three years later everyone has moved on to a new adventure, like pieces on a chessboard. Queen to Barcelona, Castle to Sydney, Knight to London.

The word home has evolved for me. It no longer represents one static place, but an ever-expanding network, fine threads that are spread over the world like cobwebs. My sense of identity, particularly national identity, is also complicated. I am Scottish, and I love being Scottish. I love our music, our mountains, our whiskey, and the cheeky humour of my countrymen. Anyone who has visited Glasgow will know that the people there are as friendly and hilarious as people can be. I almost exclusively listen to Scottish folk music, and I never fail to feel my heart soar when I hear the sound of bagpipes floating through the streets of Edinburgh. This piece of my heart wears welly boots and sits in a tree, looking out onto wild waves that crash against a rugged shore.

Part of me will always feel Australian, too, as I spent most of my twenties living there. My humour, my slang, my outlook, is infused with a Melbournian flavour, and one that I hope to always keep with me. This piece of my heart is clad in a red dress with a gin in her hand, dancing to a cabaret band on a sultry summer’s night.

But I also, now, feel German. I have adapted to the style of living here. I love how outdoorsy it is, how balanced, and the delicious profusion of food and wine festivals. My German heart rides a bicycle by the river, with a bottle of Riesling in her basket. She has filed her taxes on time and is wearing very sensible shoes.

It is a strange sweetness, feeling that you are anchored to different parts of the world. Those ghosts of your younger self ever walking the streets of your memories, their footsteps echoing deep inside your heart.

* If you’re not a Harry Potter nerd, a) I’m referring to Horcruxes, and b) What the hell is the matter with you? Get reading!