“I like to think of them as the first Europeans. The idea that the European Community was already happening,” comments Professor Miranda Green in the documentary “Lost Treasures of the Ancient World – The Celts.” She describes them that way because she says they were always moving at the drop of a hat.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot
Those of you lucky enough to have been on our Christmas card list from the beginning received a handmade card in December of 2004 with that little pronouncement from T.S. Eliot and some very labor-intensive cutouts of the three kings. I often think of that quote and wonder what it means. Is it a valiant promise, like MacArthur’s “I shall return,” or a sentence imposed from without? Or merely a wry description of how we are?
We can’t seem to get away from this quest for Place. For me, places are as connected as smells to memories and dreams. We’ve lived in four different areas of San Diego, besides that weird disconnected year up in Vancouver, Washington. First there was Carmel Valley, a place with more Italian street-names than Italy. It’s also a place where it seems nothing could ever go wrong. Cul-de-sac upon cul-de-sac filled with beautiful Spanish-style houses and perfectly landscaped yards. Everyone is happily married with two kids and a dog. Nobody wears sweats to the grocery store. When you take your children to the park, you can hear everything from Russian to Japanese (although if you go during the day, you’ll only hear Spanish from nannies watching toddlers). Yes, it is true that the parents are always on their blackberries, and the children are scheduled from early morning till evening in every extra-curricular activity imaginable. But it’s a beautiful place, and the American Dream (if that’s what you’re dreaming) reaches an apex of rare perfection there.
La Jolla was our next San Diego location. We didn’t live in beachtown La Jolla. We lived in the Golden Triangle (formed by three freeways), which is a sort of second business district. Our apartment there was my favorite we’ve lived in. It had windows all the way down to the floor. They looked out on the art deco Hyatt. We took our time hunting around for furniture, and I loved every piece we bought, from our beautiful mahogany bookshelves to Axa’s cinnamon bed to my funny Japanese couch that grew out of the berber carpet. We walked by the Temple every evening. Our office was right down the street in the Union Bank building. We spent many afternoons by ourselves in the main salon of Scripps Aquarium, listening to the throb of the tide. My city mouse loved falling asleep to the sound of cars passing by my window all night long. It’s weird, but I like it.
When we came back from Italy, and right before XUBI failed, we moved into a lovely furnished apartment in the Marina district downtown. Our new office was around the corner. My city mouse was even more pleased than in La Jolla. Every Saturday we walked to the farmer’s market in Little Italy. Once we walked back carrying two 20-pound bags of Valencia oranges. Nature study was a little difficult to do downtown, but we had a park right across the street. Every morning after breakfast, the children and I (and sometimes Tony) would cross the street and spend a few hours exploring at the park.
Finally, we’ve just left Fallbrook, a little town on the extreme northern end of San Diego County. There, we lived on an acre with goats, chickens, and plenty of mud to play in and trees to climb. Our business had failed, and we spent almost a year at that house, recovering. I was sick for months, and the children learned to amuse themselves outside. Mostly I walked barefoot in the grass and listened to the birds. Our house was like a little monastery. Somehow, though, as soon as we felt a little better, we knew it was time to leave. And of course, we wanted to go back to Europe. Italy. We knew how to do Italy. And it would have to be easier this time.
We came to the historic center of Florence with the intent to stay here for two months while we found a more permanent place. When we started thinking about what sort of place we wanted, here is what we came up with: First, we want to live in Europe. So moving to Italy was a great start. We’re just a Ryanair flight away from anywhere we want to be. Next, we want some space. This is a little difficult to find in Italy. People just don’t seem to live on large plots of ground. And if they do, they usually live in a little cluster of several families. When we were able to find places that were a little more remote, they were invariably at least three hours away from the nearest church, by winding mountain roads. Unless, of course, you can spring for a huge villa in the Tuscan countryside. But we just want a little house on some land.
And then there was the problem of the red tape. We’ve cut through yards and yards of it in our day, but Italy’s red tape and our off-the-cuff planning style don’t always mix well.
And this really was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’d like to buy a car so we don’t have to live in the middle of town right on the bus route. But to buy a car in Italy, you must be registered as a long-term resident at a particular address. We aren’t yet here, since we’re only going to be in this apartment a few months and it’s set up as a vacation rental. Registering as a resident involves a couple of hundred euros to register your rental contract, then waiting somewhere between two and six weeks for the vigili, or local police, to come by and verify you actually live there. Transferring ownership and paying all the extra taxes adds several hundred to a thousand more euros to the price of the car. And nothing happens quickly in Italy . . . So even if we could find a house we liked on some land, it would still take a month or more AFTER we moved there till we could get a car. Anyway.
That’s what made us think about moving to Ireland. You can show up in the country, buy a car that day, and be set. Maybe that’s a silly reason to start thinking of moving to a country. But then we started looking at houses. And as a result of the old English laws limiting farm sizes and then the mass emigration, the country is full of little cottages on a few acres. There are a lot of little things too, I guess. Being able to read through the entire Irish citizens’ information website in English is one of them.