Where I Belong

Pastel de Nata, fresh rustic bread and employees working behind the counter at Balzano’s `Deli in Cambridge, UK.

When I think about where I’ve travelled, I think about three things; what I ate, how I felt, and who was with me.  Sure, I might have vague recollections of the massive or ancient architecture- but when it comes down to describing an experience of a new place to someone else, I can usually only manage to use vague terms like, “It was beautiful” or “There was this old cathedral. It was so cool.”  It never measures up to how everything made you feel, and unfortunately, many times, it’s an indescribable set of feelings.

So then you try and write about it, and often times, it becomes impossible.  How can I convey the sense of belonging, home, beauty, and so many other words that attempt to define an emotional scale that is more vast than a rainbow?  I have no idea.  What I want to attempt to explain isn’t how amazing going places and seeing things is, but rather, how the experience of being “somewhere else” or outside of your usual box, being a foreigner, isn’t really the exciting part of travelling for me.  In fact, what I really seek when I’m in a new place, are the things that seem familiar.  I seek the things that will make me feel a deep sense of belonging.  Enter, the cafe.

I’ve written previously on the idea of public spaces of food and social exchange or kind of strange, I mean, we can eat at home, right?  Why do we feel the need to go out?  I’ve expanded on this idea in a previous article, so for our purposes here, we’ll just say it outright.  It’s because we all need to feel as if we belong to community.  We all need our positive and creative spaces, where we feel free to share in life, to express ourselves, and to be at home in a place beyond our bedrooms and kitchens.

Much like life, travelling is difficult, stressful, tiring, and sometimes just downright turbulent.  You have no control, you are taken this way and that by previously established, albeit convoluted social norms; many times when you travel, you feel disconnected- you feel the weight of your not belonging. You have become, in every sense of the word, alien.

Travelling for pleasure wasn’t always a thing, right?  Travelling has always, always been a part of the human experience in one way or another- nomadic tribes, famine, travelling to sell your harvest, pilgrimage, hope for a better life, the reasons for travel are endless, but the experience is always the same.  It’s the experience of uncertainty. It’s the experience of hardship.  Travelling for pleasure is probably a rather new idea, and one that we shouldn’t take for granted. I believe it’s this long history with humans and travelling that have birthed the culture of the Pub, the Free house, the cafe, and the variety of other establishments that really give us a sense of belonging wherever we find ourselves.  It’s the respite, the sanctuary of these places that remind who we are and what we need; a place to not only be for the moment, but a place to feel as if we belong to this world.

We have experienced this sensation time and again on our journey this past week and half. Today, I do much of the same.  I sit at Balzano’s Deli, with my beautiful Italian friend Maria, and her beautiful baby Veronica, and my husband Casey. And again, I remember that I what I love about this cafe is that it’s given me a place, just for the moment, to feel connected again; in this space I think of all of the people who strive to create this spaces for all of us, and I really miss our own little space, where we’ve established so many connections and are developing our own relationships.  This “feeling” is what I want to take with me when I leave.  This “feeling” is what I strive for in our own shop.  That when you come in, you belong.

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