It's both easy and impossible to imagine when David Berkeley had the time to sit around and think about what his new definition of homesickness was or what was actually rolling through the head of his neighbor, a man that he could hardly communicate with through any kind of spoken language.
While spending a year on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, in a village of roughly 40 people, while his wife did her fieldwork toward her PhD. in cultural anthropology, Berkeley was busy waiting and entertaining, caring for his one-year-old son - keeping him quiet, throwing him into a carrier and trudging through the streets, up mountainous slopes, around to see the goats, visiting the shops of the meat curers, the cheese makers, the woodworkers - doing whatever was needed to keep his boy happy while mommy was picking the brains of all of those people native to the village and its surrounding areas. They made a general rule to never turn down an invitation and to never leave anywhere until the get-together or sitting had completely wound down.
It made for late nights, but a richness of day that one doesn't usually allow to happen daily and for the better part of a year. This left Berkeley with his hands full as his wife was engaged in her study, note-taking, analysis and writing to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, he was making sense of all of the nonsensical behavior, interactions and likely loneliness and lost feelings of living so far away from home, with the majority of his time spent with a young man who couldn't yet speak and a bunch of people who spoke a language that he was only weakly, infrequently passable with.
Those pangs and those echoes of being slightly alienated, encountering that reluctance of acceptance (a popular tee-shirt that can be purchased in Corsica reads, "Welcome to Corsica…Good Luck") and in being overcome with newness and tremendous beauty must have placed Berkeley in a state to do almost the exact same thing as his wife was doing with her studies and interviews. He was able to construct an idea of these strangers and of the strange parts of himself. He could look out of his window, at his neighbor Antoine, and see him for his peacefulness, for his comfortability in his own land and attached values and thoughts and morals to him that may or may not have been helplessly off. He was able to look at women passing by and attach sadness to them, rightly or wrongly.
He was able to build stories that he couldn't have built elsewhere and only because of a place that he described thusly, "Our senses were awakened immediately when the boat reached the old and weathered port of Bastia. The air was incredibly clean and clear. The light magnificent. The smells, though, were the most intoxicating - a medley of mint and celery root, of cinnamon and syrup that wafted from the hills and would drift into our bedroom once we found our village and moved in. It was silent there. It still is. Corsica was a magical place and our time there was too. But the magic, like all magic, was not just positive. Our year was scary, at times uncomfortable, never totally comprehensible."
*Essay originally published June, 2011
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