It’s been a week since I left Washington DC and returned to London. Returning to Washington has only reinforced a feeling that I’d like to find a place to call home for more than a year or two. I stayed with a friend of mine who has a great apartment in Adams Morgan, a wonderful, eclectic neighbourhood in Washington. My friend, Bill, has a great sense of style and his basement apartment oozes with his own sense of style, especially a wide-ranging collection of antique cameras. There is a big bowl of Polaroid photos sitting in one of his bookcases with more than a few snaps of me. When I walked in the door a couple of Saturday nights ago, it was almost like walking into my own flat after an extended absence.
I called Washington home for six and a half years beginning in October of 1998 and ending just two years ago in April 2005. Before I moved to Washington, I hadn’t lived anywhere longer than 18 months since I left high school. Living out of boxes was a semi-permanent state, and for a few years beginning in 2001, I traveled for work on average 50,000 miles a year. Not a lot by some standards, and most of that travel was in the US and shuttling to London and back. I enjoyed traveling. I’ve seen most of the US and quite a bit of Europe in the last 10 years, and I’m really enjoying seeing more of Europe and hopefully a few other parts of the world still. About five years ago, a friend from high school asked if I actually lived anywhere. But I learned a while ago that having a home base is really important.
I didn’t actually expect to be in London as long as I have been. I was only supposed to be on a year-long assignment, and when I arrived I was told due to budget cuts that I might be here only six months. But slightly after six months were coming up, I found another one year assignment in London, and shortly after that assignment started I met Suw. She’s been a wonderful variable thrown into the mix, and we’re both feeling the same urge to find a home base.
Where do I start? In part, we’re overwhelmed by choice. After Suw and I get married next year, we could feasibly call any place in the US or Europe home. A city? The country? Suw and I both grew up rural areas, and at heart, we both yearn a bit for the countryside. We both miss the space, and I miss the wild places in the US that just aren’t that easy to get to in Europe. We dream of a house with a proper garden, a place where we can have cats.
But we also enjoy things that cities offer, mostly good food and wine, although that’s hardly something that only cities offer. One of the places that I’ve felt most at home in the last 10 years was Ann Arbor Michigan. The homes had character. There was a great farmers’ market just blocks from my office. The local cinema and Michigan Theatre had a nice selection of films and great musical acts. It is a great university town. I could stay at state park just outside of town, camp there during the weeks and actually still drive into work.
But the first question for us is whether to stay here in the UK or go to the US? Suw and I visited my brother and his family last year for her first American Thanksgiving. He lives in suburban Dallas, and both of us had a really hard time not feeling like we were drowning in the mile after mile of cookie cutter homes. There was no sense of place. If we were to move to the US, we want to move someplace that has a ‘there’ there, and I do know of places like that in the US.
In the UK, the challenges are mostly economic. We could afford to buy a place in London, but the housing market makes the dot.com boom’s irrational exuberance seem almost like the height of sensibility. I know it’s an island and space is at a premium, but the premium that we would pay here for housing is very difficult to justify. Suw and I would also just like to work less and enjoy life more. London has a lot to offer, but it comes with a high price in terms not only of money but also in terms of space, personal safety and other quality of life issues.
We’ve just started thinking about things, and we’ve got lots more questions right now than answers, some are philosophical but most are just logistical. In the end, we’re sure that many of these questions will be answered for us rather than by us. Right now, it’s mostly dreaming with a little bit of budgeting. But we’re looking to make a move in two years, and that will be here sooner than we know it or possibly even want it.