Places I’ve Planned to Live

When we were planning family trips as a kid, my mom used to tell me that anticipation is half the fun. It seems I took it to heart. Perhaps a little too much to heart. Tony and I have moved a lot of places since we got married fifteen years ago. But we have planned even more moves than we have executed, in varying levels of depth, up to and including consulting Google Maps street view to check out various prospective neighbourhoods.

Planning to move somewhere is a sort of reflexive impulse for us. We do it when we are feeling frustrated about the weather, the culture, the food, our jobs, or anything else about where we live now. We also do it when we are feeling happy and content, as a sort of comfortable armchair exploration. Where other people get homesick, we tend to get wanderlust. It’s not just a desire to travel on vacation, though; we get an urge to uproot our life and take it elsewhere. We used to actually act on this urge, sooner rather than later. No excuse was too small to pick up and move again. We moved together literally a dozen and a half times during our first decade of marriage.

But when we moved to Amsterdam we made a sort of pact with each other that we would stay put here until the kids finished high school. I was vaguely surprised last year, and also elated, when we hit three years–the longest we’d ever lived anywhere–with no sign of any imminent move. Next year, at the five year mark, we will be halfway to our unthinkably long-term goal. When Raj graduates from high school, we will have lived in Amsterdam for TEN WHOLE YEARS. That, my friends, is some serious stability. I am so proud of us. Also, I am unexpectedly rather enjoying this staying put thing. It does have its perks.

Still. One of our favourite activities to do together remains virtual house-hunting, on whatever is the usual online real estate platform for the country in question. We found our current house, for instance, on Tony still has the app on his phone, and whenever we’re out and about–whether in different neighbourhoods of Amsterdam or further afield in the Netherlands–he likes to whip it out to see what types of houses are available at the moment. In Ireland we found our apartment, as well as dozens of darling and impractical thatched roof cottages out in the countryside I was dying to live in, on We still regularly stalk for castles, beach houses, stone ruins, and vineyards in all the beautiful places we want to move to in Italy.

Some of our curtailed moving plans have become a sort of combination inside joke and fond memory for us.

“Remember,” I’ll say, “when we lived in the Dordogne?”

We never lived in the Dordogne.

I brought home a book I happened to find at the library once–one of those gorgeous coffee table books full of beautiful photos of castles and rivers and rustic country bread. We dreamed ourselves into the Dordogne as if we’d been transported there by a magical door. We could see vividly in our minds our rose-entwined gate, leading into a path through a bright garden that stopped at a little wooden door overlooked by large bay windows with roll-up French valance curtains. We talked about the Dordogne incessantly. It was so real in our heads, in fact, that once in San Diego we were at the front office of yet another new apartment complex, and it turned out that the guy working the desk was from France.

“Ah!” Tony remarked, carried away by his enthusiasm, “we used to live there!”

But when his interlocutor inquired as to where exactly we had lived in France, he was repeatedly unable to understand Tony’s response. We had tried dozens of times, and in vain, to teach ourselves and one another how to pronounce “Dordogne”, and never attained anything remotely ungarbled. In retrospect, it is probably good the conversation didn’t get any further, since we had really nothing to say about our completely fictional sojourn there. And yet, I still have fond memories of when we lived in the Dordogne in our heads. It is alive in my imagination with a sort of nostalgia remarkably similar to what I feel thinking about when we truly did live in an equally charming little country town in northern Italy.

And then there is Greece. Our move to Greece may be the most complete plan we have ever made without following it through. It is also, as far as I remember, the only one we planned with other people. The whole thing happened very organically; we had sent out our yearly Christmas email, and amid the ensuing responses somehow ended up in a four-way conversation with various friends in different corners of the world about starting a commune somewhere. We would all homeschool each other’s kids together, raise goats and chickens, and paint and dance and explore somewhere in the world.

“Europe, preferably,” we said.

“Somewhere warm, where we could live in yurts,” we all agreed. Spain? Italy? Malta? Greece? The emails flew thick and fast as we collectively fantasised and finessed the details. Friends had a piece of property on an island in the Cyclades, perfect for yurts, at least other than during the impossible windy months. Building permits would be a nightmare, but that was no problem: we wouldn’t need them as long as we moved the yurts often enough for them to be considered impermanent structures. Ah! the impractical optimism of youth. If by youth you mean mid-thirties just a few years ago with two kids and ten years of marriage behind us. But I digress.

A cursory reading of my blog might lead you to the conclusion that we must have actually moved to this Greek island. But no. As the time approached, the sparsely populated countryside of a lonely Cycladic island began to seem less attractive, and it became apparent that our friends were somewhat less serious about the move than we (how serious were we? Good question. We never really know until we actually make the move). We made an abrupt destination switch to Amsterdam, a move which we spent much less time planning, but did manage to somehow make into a reality.

The swing from desiring an idyllic countryside existence in rural Greece to an urban flat in cosmopolitan Amsterdam might seem extreme. But that’s kind of the point. In fact, this is a recurring theme in the joint ongoing odyssey that is Tony’s and my life together. Aesop’s fable of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse is among the more powerful of the shared myths that give texture to our relationship. It’s not that one of us is City and the other Country. Rather, we both seem to be equally both. In the country we miss the culture and congeniality of the city; at home in the city we long for trees and fields and quiet. The one thing that’s perennially clear is that the gloomy in-betweenness of the suburbs is not for us. We are, perhaps, creatures of extremes. The Country Mouse forever shedding his skin to become the City Mouse, and vice versa, ad infinitum.

Which is probably why after four years so far of self-imposed permanency in Amsterdam, we are both daydreaming to the point of obsession about yet another place we’ve never been, but somehow know is paradise on earth. Very few days go by when one of us doesn’t send the other a screenshot from one of the many Instagram accounts dedicated to a certain never-visited (by us) region of Italy. Le Marche (“the Marches”): the hinterlands of Italy where the mountains meet the sea. We’ve become obdurately fixated on Le Marche, and can’t wait to actually see it. Too bad we just took a bunch of holidays, and Tony just started a new job, and I start grad school in a couple of months. Not sure when we are going to make it out on a road trip through the hills of our favourite new undiscovered region of Italy. And (sigh) it will probably be even longer before we manage to buy a tumbledown ruin somewhere in those hills that we can run away and work on whenever we feel too citified. But I guess it doesn’t matter so very much. We are already living there in our heads.

What do you think?