Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunday Scribblings - Earliest Memory

My earliest memory is of the blue rubber flooring in the train station in Milan, Italy. I remember the particularly acrid smell of the rubber, the raised blue circles to give the floor traction, the black smudges from the shoes of travelers rushing to catch a train. My mom and I were on our way to visit my grandmother at her home in Peci, a small village near Trieste. I held my mom's hand and helped keep watch over our suitcases. I must have been 3 years old.

I also remember plants and flowers at our house in Adelino, New Mexico when my mom and dad were still married. In the sunroom, surrounded by thick adobe walls and large windows with paper hawk silhouettes taped on the glass so that the wild birds outside wouldn't crash into them, my mom planted a rainbow of geraniums in huge wooden whisky barrels. I would help water the plants with my little plastic watering can, and when the geraniums were in full flower I would pick off the blossoms and make hot pink and red and white bouquets to give to my mom or my dad or my nani (Priscilla, my spanish-speaking nanny who would look after me while my parents were at work).

In the outdoor flowerbeds along the walls of the house, my mom planted beautiful flowers each year. I remember my excitement upon spotting the first grape hyacinths to pierce the soil, their little purple heads reaching up defiantly after a winter of snow and frost. Then came the crocuses in pastel hues, followed by an assortment of irises and full-sized hyacinths. The hyacinths were always my favorites. I absolutely love the way they smell, and can recall the particular sweet aroma to this day, even though it's been at least 10 years since the last time I rested my nose among the clusters of small flowers to get a taste of that amazing perfume.

We also had an orchard behind the house, rows of trees bearing apples, pears, peaches and plums. I loved to feel the late summer sun on my shoulders while my mom picked fruit and mulched the soil. What a delight to pluck a ripe, sun-warmed apple or peach off the tree and take a bite, juice dribbling down my chin and hands and arms. I remember our dogs running around, chasing each other between the trees, and our horses softly trotting and whinnying in the distance, waiting for a bale of hay and a lick of salt.

I grew up in the countryside of New Mexico for the first 5 years of my life, but thanks to my family heritage and my mom's job, I traveled internationally almost from the time I was born. I am now a "city girl", a 21st century nomad, a speaker of many languages and a navigator of many cultures. I have learned to feel at home being homeless, to find the comfort that usually comes with a familiar, time-tried geographical location through abstract things like writing and dancing and art.

I hope to one day strike the right balance between growing roots and wandering the world so that my children's first memories can be just like mine. I want to give them the perfect mix of stability and mobility. I want them to have the perennial flowers, thick fruit trees and animals that can only really come with a fixed geographical home, alongside the languages, landscapes and people of an international existance so that their eyes are opened, in a safe and supporting context, to the limitless possibilities of life.

9 comments:

Safiya said...

I do look forward to your Sunday scribblings.
So how many languages can you speak?
You should check out Lucky fatima's blog, she's another languages freak ;)

paris parfait said...

This is such a lovely, descriptive post! I could see those flowers in old whiskey barrels in New Mexico, the colours and the sunshine. And you had quite an international childhood as well (like my daughter). I didn't start traveling all over the world until I was 22 - and for the first 17 years of my life I lived in one place. Great post, Ali! Thanks for these stories.

Laini Taylor said...

Ali, I have the exact same hopes for my children, and I love the way you've expressed it. I had a little too much "gypsy" and not quite enough "roots". But I am so grateful for the travel -- I know it's made me who I am. Your life has been so exciting so far -- and I imagine having those first five years in that marvelous place really helped you have a sense of "roots" that you could hold onto later during your gypsying!

Colorsonmymind said...

What a rich history-I would like to pass this on to my child too but don't see us moving to an exotic place any time soon.

bart said...

a lovely bit of introspection here ali, thank you for the trail of images you left behind on this quiet monday morning... keep well...

Ali la Loca said...

Safiya: I speak english, portuguese and spanish fluently. I used to speak italian fluently, but I've lost a lot of my speaking ability since I never practice it. My spanish is slowly being cannibalized by portuguese since I also don't really have a chance to speak much here in Mozambique.

I will check out Lucky Fatima's blog. :)

Laini: Yes, I think the first 5 years really helped cement a feeling of grounded-ness as a backdrop for all my travels...although I have spent the last few years searching for "home" again. I think I have reached the point where I am transitioning from my childhood home to what will become my children's childhood home one day.

Marilyn said...

What beautiful memories... It can be such a hard balance to strike--to feel rooted while also honoring one's nomadic tendencies. What a lovely goal to have to want to gift your children with that.

Alexandra S said...

So beutifully expressed! I am so conflicted at times between these two parts of myself-the yearning for roots and community, and the yearning for adventure, exposure to new lands, languages...Ideally, I would have a career I could do anywhere, and have a homebase but spend a few months a year in new, far away places. With only one life, there is just SO much to see, explore, discover. And to give this wide range of life experiences will forever deepen their ability to truly see and sense the vastness of the world they live in.

joyfish said...

Ali,

I'm so glad I chanced upon you at sixtenpine. I lived in the same house in New Jersey for the first 18 years of my life and have travelled extensively ever since, becoming a "city girl." I now have a young son, and it is a beautiful challenge to give him both roots and wings.