Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Dark Side and Misguided Passion of Bizet’s Carmen

Prelude

I have now been to various opera productions by the Vancouver Opera and have enjoyed them all, some more than less, but they have been excellent experiences, nonetheless and regardless. It turned out, not by design but by fortuitous circumstances or maybe even impulsivity, that this year and season, I ended up attending each and every one of them.

The one that was highest on my list was The Magic Flute, which I absolutely loved and actually saw for the second time, the previous one had been put on by the UBC ensemble various years ago. To Don Pasquale I went by accident and did not regret it all. Both, I went to by myself, reason forthcoming below.

And then, there was Carmen. This opera was never high up on my list, which is a bit ironic for someone who has studied 19th century French literature and who loves and relishes in unbridled passion and romance and the bright and dark side of desire. The music has wonderful bits of course, but overall, it did not manage to sweep me off my feet. And yet, as my wife had her eyes set on it and reproached me (among a host of many other things) to have missed a previous production some years ago, I felt compelled and obliged.

 

Overture


Like concerts, these types of events one is fond of and tends to look forward to. One ensures that nothing encroaches upon the date and expects and hopes that it will be a resounding success. And as I am wont to do, I meticulously plan things in advance, leave little to chance and (try to) ensure that nothing goes wrong. Well, many things can still go wrong.

For starters, I have the tendency to arrive much too early to events. Usually, I attend the pre-talk but, on that day, I did not feel like it, and yet, I had allotted a good solid hour to get to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, which is about a twenty-minute bus ride and a thirty-minute walk. The weather forecast included some rain after a few sunny days, but I assumed we should be fine.

The annual BMO marathon scheduled for the same day was in the back of my mind, but previous events of that caliber had not interfered in significant measure and led to only minor delays. We had a lot of extra time factored in just in case.

Yet when we stepped out, we noticed that this time it was different. There was an insane amount of traffic on our street and a noticeable lack of buses in the direction that we were planning to head. I suggested to grab umbrellas and walk, but it was immediately and forcefully vetoed. My wife chose to call a cab. I doubted that would be fruitful and merely pointed at it but was attacked on the spot. Like often, I shrugged and went along.

The cab ride was a disaster. It turned out that others were attempting to take the side roads as well and we were often caught in traffic that moved at a snail’s pace. Time was dangerously approaching showtime and bottled stress and frustrations culminated during this slow-motion ride through hell. The accusations flew from both sides, and although the cab driver did not speak Spanish (I presume), he could feel the tension between this quarreling couple.

And that was the exact reason I had gone to the opera by myself. The day I told her that I would go to Mozart on my own, there was an argument as well. I just did not want her to cast shadows on my enjoyment of that masterpiece; I was aware that it could and would happen with Bizet but was not as fazed by it. And this is not limited to the opera, watching Barbie with her was an ordeal as well, yes, Barbie for goodness’ sake!

All stress and worry for nought, we arrived there on time, but she gave me, as is wont to happen in such situations, the silent treatment. She would not even give me mono-syllabic responses. I could not wait for the music to start but felt sad and let down that I would not have anyone to talk to about and on the event. Lo and behold, two charming women sat by my side, and they were very pleasant and easy to talk to.

I do not know their names (I kind of wished I had asked them, but I wanted them to remain anonymous here; notwithstanding, I did tell or rather warned them that they would be mentioned in my post) and will refer to the first one as the German lady and the other one by my side as the first-time opera attendee.

We talked about how opera was such a unique and immersive performance that involved a high level of expertise in multitasking. Not only were the people on stage asked to sing, often challenging arias and had to do so quite often in different languages, but they were also supposed to act, move about, and in some cases even fight with each other and do minor stunts. In fact, they even had a knife fight in this opera.

The German lady told me how she was interested in learning Italian to be able to understand opera from the region and she also mentioned an Italian singer by the name of Giovanni Z. (for the life of me I cannot recall his full last name) who would turn and transpose German folk songs into Italian, which sounded interesting, daring, and challenging.

Meanwhile, our cherished first-time attendee was looking forward to this event and I was hoping, almost praying that it would turn out to be a thoroughly positive and enchanting experience for her (sadly, it was not) so here is to hoping that she will still continue to visit operatic events even after this letdown of Carmenic proportions.

 

Love for the Exotic, Uncommon, and Unattainable

In the opera, Don José is presented with two options. He could choose filial duty, his mother an invisible yet imposing presence via her letters brought by the charming messenger Micaëla, a village maiden who his mother suggests as a potential mate and spouse, and on the other side, the passion and desire for the attention-seeking and -grabbing Carmen who bursts on the stage and turns the head of all the soldiers present.

While the reasonable choice would have been the good and faithful girl sent by his mother, he chooses to go for the person that attracts him much more and on the spot. But duty and doing the right thing is one thing, following one’s desires and passion is another. He is smitten with the fiery Carmen, her appeal apart from her unparalleled beauty and uninhibited demeanor also comes from being a foreigner, having Spanish and Gypsy blood in her.

When she gives him the eye and the rose and basically encourages him to pursue here, there is no way back for this young soldier. He is even willing to go to prison for her (twice actually but the second time is for a completely different and much more sinister reason) and he consciously commits a misdeed for her by letting her escape from the shackles of the law.

This sacrifice of his does not go unnoticed by her so when he is released months later, she awaits him. She professes her love to him, which should be taken with a grain of salt as she has a long list and history of pervious lovers, but he takes it in completely, and again, against all odds and reason.

Yet when she discovers that he was planning to return to his post, she feels slighted. She wants all his attention and asks him to go even further and sacrifice his duty and livelihood for her. They would roam the mountains on horseback together living a fulfilling life of crime if only he deserted his post. For someone with narcissistic tendencies, it is always a matter of all or nothing and even all is just not enough or good enough for them.

When put on the spot, Don José hesitates for a moment, and she gets annoyed and angry. She even questions his love for her because if he really loved her, he would do absolutely anything to be with her. Ironically, he does show her at the end what is willing to do in the name of what he perceives and designates as love.

At this point, the impulsive young soldier gives in to the domineering Carmen and decides to go along with her fantasy; he is under the impression that he is in love with her, and worse, he believes that she loves him back. We already know and feel that it is not going to work out as there is another boy in town, the flashy and overly confident toreador Escamillo.

Leading a life of freedom and adventure is a recurring theme of this opera. In her view, she represents both; she gives no man her heart at least not for a long period of time, and she is free to reject anyone as she feels fit. Love is a free-roaming bird that is unbound and can go and land wherever it pleases, she sings with gusto.

As such, Don José is certainly not a good match. He is a go-between because the toreador just seems so much better suited to her temperament and lifestyle. Escamillo is a free spirit and a rebel who does not believe in rules and boundaries. In comparison, Don José is bland and boring and utterly naive. In this production, there is really nothing special about the young soldier, neither his looks nor his costume design, he is wearing jeans, and as one my opera companions stated, he looked like a “country bumpkin.”

Add to that the lack of chemistry between the two leads in this opera, perhaps due to the last-minute switch as the person destined to do Carmen had to cancel, and it seems implausible and even improbable that she should choose him.

The problem is also that we as the audience do not buy it, and even worse, cannot feel it. The actors sang very well and were proficient and professional throughout, but the main relationship never came to life and did not convince us and when they fail to resonate with us, the opera suffers as a result.

Neither me nor the charming ladies beside me felt the passion and love that was portrayed here, and it took away from our enjoyment and identification with the two characters. Yet, when she chooses Escamillo, it makes perfect sense, but he is just a foil and counterpoint to the rather insipid Don José, and we know too little to care about the toreador, merely that he appears to be the male version of Carmencita. But his entry on a motorcycle was quite impressive and it was easy to see and understand why everyone was a fan and was cheering for him, and if anyone was worthy of Carmen’s infatuation, it would have to be him.

Finally, since we find it hard to feel for and understand Don José, the ending makes little sense to us and does not have the emotional impact it should have had. She does seem to entice him and to egg him on by repeating that she would rather die than to be with him, but the fact that he commits this horrendous deed what is commonly referred to as a "crime of passion" seems rather far-fetched in this production.

As neither character is particularly likable, none of us shed a tear for them, which is unfortunate because good and classic opera is supposed to be a focal point and magnifying glass for the feelings and passions of life. Here, we did not care for either and were not particularly moved by their actions. One of them ends up dead, the other in prison, and neither is or was free nor was there much to speak of in terms of passion, adventure, and let alone, love.


Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Serendipity Plus Synchronicity Equation and the Dilemma and Challenges of Finding True Love

Overlooking a peaceful lagoon
Call it coincidence, happenstance, or fate, but often, there seems to certain elements missing from the equation of love. This goes beyond emotions and connections and even further past attraction and infatuation. When it comes to love, there are different shades and colors that come into play as there are so many different kinds and types of love, but here, I will be focusing on romantic love and meeting the person one is meant or destined to be with.

Before we take a closer look at the special someone, let us talk about love itself. I see love as something that cannot be willed or brought into existence. It is more akin to the allegorical representation of Cupid hitting us with an arrow. Often, it is unexpected and can happen in an instant. We may run into someone and suddenly feel a warm feeling around the heart.

It can also appear unexpectedly. We may be suddenly feeling differently about a friend or a co-worker. This may be initiated through a specific word, gesture, action, or moment, merely a shift in feelings and perception, or an epiphany. In other words, how we see and feel about a person can suddenly and unexpectedly shift. It is like having the rug taken from under your feet and you are left floating in the air. Love almost always has a weightless air about it, and as Kundera might attest, the lightness can be unbearable if it lacks a calibrating counterpoint or influence. Love can also suddenly fly out of the window and leave us emotionally stranded.

Some people believe that there is a soul mate out there, the “perfect partner”, the designated person who wholly understands us and fully complements us. Others say that such a concept, entity, or person is merely a figment of the imagination and wishful thinking. That does not however preclude that any relationship must go through difficulties and challenges and only with the right amount and level of care, communication, and commitment, one can turn it into gold and attain lasting joy and happiness.

Yet not just anyone can do the trick for us. The problem, if you want to call it as such, is that each of us is unique, not only in personality but also in our past experiences, and we are often strongly influenced by unconscious negative thoughts, feelings, moments, and narrative patterns in addition to the constant rewiring and readjustment that our mind and heart go through due to living in and traveling through time and space. Put differently, we are not only different to begin with, but our experiences constantly mold and shape us in unique and idiosyncratic ways.

Notwithstanding, there is an underlying and utterly complex network of connections and requirements necessary to meet someone special, let alone the one. First off, there is the matter of timing. To physically meet someone, we need to occupy the same time and space. This could be a café, a bar, a workplace, church, or a party, but we need to be there at the same time.

Secondly, we need to notice each other. How many times have we walked past someone who has looked at us with sparkling romantic or longing eyes, and we just did not register it and walked on. There is a level of awareness and mindfulness necessary that goes beyond merely occupying the same space.

Let us say that our eyes do meet. If it is a stranger in a public place, the next step can be very difficult, again relative to personality characteristics and personal experiences. One or both may be too shy or timid to initiate the interaction. How many thousands and millions of people pass each other with a half-smile but do not utter a single word. How many matches and connections could have been potentially made if one of them had the guts to utter a simple hello to the other. Ironically and sadly, we find it much easier to express our anger and dissatisfaction than our interest and curiosity.

But we are going to assume that all these hurdles are met and overcome. We meet the other person, we perceive and notice the immediate chemistry, we strike up a lively conversation, and a connection is made and established. What is the next step?

It depends. This is where another facet of synchronicity is at play. We have had the fortune to meet the person we are meant to meet and both of us noticed and realized this. It is for a lack of a better word, love at first sight. We are going to assume that there are no other complications, they are not tourists, do not have visa issues, do not live too far away, etc.

Yet what exactly is each person’s relationship status? To claim that two people who are soul mates would meet in the prime of their lives while both happen to be single and do not have any other major concerns and impediments in terms of entering a life-long relationship seems like a bit of a stretch. At the least, one of them may be in a relationship, serious or not.

This is an added complication, especially if one has been in a longer intimate relationship or if one or both is married and even has a family. Serendipity may in fact bring us together at any point of our lives and what if we had an established path and were now asked to make a serious detour. Should we drop and abandon everything to engage in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or should we just ignore it and let it fly? Should we fight and repress it?

The cynic and the realist would not engage in such a risky if not reckless undertaking. We may feel the spark and chemistry, but we do not know the other person. To take a leap in such a way and manner can be akin to suicide, the potential ending of everything that went before. Do you put all your money on a single card? Are you fully aware of the chances and probabilities at play and what a loss would and could mean to you and others around you?

And yet, like anything worthwhile and fulfilling in life, one must make a decision and even sacrifice or give up a thing or two in the process. It is never easy and that could be a sign that it is a potentially meaningful choice. So far, we have considered synchronicity, various coincidences and happenstances putting us on the same path of life regardless of our current circumstances, relationship status, and other types of considerations.  

The good news is that if you believe in fate or destiny, it tends to be, thankfully, stubborn and insistent. It does not just let go or drop the endeavor but will give you various signs and signals like Gatsby’s flashing green light on the bay or other more hidden and subtle clues. Dreams may also play a role and guide you in a certain direction. It is, however, each individual’s responsibility to see and recognize this and then to decide what to do about it. Fate cannot, and of course will not, force you to be with the ideal mate; love though a forceful feeling is much too precious for that and can be ignored, downplayed, and repressed at one’s own cost and peril.

Love is also rare. Although some claim to fall in love every other day, that may be doubtful because love is not a common or ordinary thing or feeling. If you are asked to think about a person that you have truly loved, that is with emotion, passion, and abandon, there tends to be only a few or perhaps just one person that comes to mind.

If it is the person, you are currently with, then count yourself lucky, but the relationships we have are not always based on true love. There are other factors that are being considered, which factor in this choice and equation. Some of them may be unconscious like the quest for a father or mother figure or replacement. Others are more practical as certain types of evident benefits, such as finances, status, looks, or connections.

Even if you have married your high school sweetheart, you may have doubts now, whether they are justified or not. Or you may meet someone else who makes your heart skip a beat, and you are certain it is not merely attraction but goes much deeper than that.

Many hearts are broken on the path of life. Some of the people may not have been a good fit for us; we may feel a lack of love, interest, difference in priorities, or even a clash of personalities that can become more pronounced over time. And some people change. It could be us or the partner, or both. If the path we are talking about is significantly different, one or both would suffer in the process.  

As can be seen, love is fickle, precious, and has a mind of its own. It can come out of nowhere and drop and enter into our lives unexcepted, perhaps even wreak a little or a lot of havoc, or it might never cross paths with us. At the same time, we might be too occupied and preoccupied to see and feel it. We may be set on a routine that gives us comfort and safety and are not willing to budge even a bit despite not feeling fully alive throughout.

In that sense, love is a bit like vocation. You may be engaged in work that is pleasant, brings in sufficient amount of money and that you are good at, but it just does not fulfill you in a profound sense. It is not the dream job you had imagined in your childhood and so something will feel amiss, and you may not find lasting joy and fulfilment. Love is not that different in the sense that you know when it is there but unlike vocation it cannot be conjured or realized with work and effort only. There is a magical and even mystical aspect to it that can be often out of reach. While we have a certain say and can influence certain actions, some things will remain out of reach no matter how hard we try.

But when you are fortunate enough to have serendipity knock at your door, listen up. Consider answering, if only out of curiosity at first or because it is the polite thing to do. Unlike coincidence, serendipity tends to be fortunate, and it often includes elements of synchronicity. It is not commonplace and may not occur again. It is the universe communicating with you and trying to get through to you. It has the best intentions in mind. But in the end, you are the one who has to respond and take action, and it is your call after all.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Mirhady Lecture 2024: The Existence, Purpose, and Metaphor of Prisons in Iran and Around the World


A Slide of Golnar Nikpour's Book Cover
After a four-year hiatus, which was not out of choice, the Mirhady Lecture with its focus on Iranian studies was finally back on the map again last week. The previous one was on March 1, 2020, which was a handful of days before Covid 19 officially became a pandemic and when subsequent safety measures and restrictions came into effect worldwide. It is interesting to note that this year’s chosen theme and focus was on prisons as we have had globally - due to the pandemic -first-hand experience of being locked in and isolated from each other for a substantial amount of time.

It is also a moment to reflect upon the history and practices of incarceration, which despite the narrow focus on modern Iran in this lecture has much wider, global, historical, social, and political repercussions, which were partly addressed and which I shall add to and expand upon at end of this post.

The invited speaker was Dr. Golnar Nikpour and her recently published first book The Incarcerated Modern Prisons and Public Life in Iran published by Stanford University Press. As a historian, she defined “modern” in this context as starting from the 18th century to the present, which were partitioned into three separate breaking points: the Qajar period, the Pahlavi reign from 1925 to 1979, and then, the subsequent Islamic state right after the ‘79 revolution in Iran up to the current day.

Interestingly, forced confinement was rare during most of the Qajar period. There were cases and occasions of corporal punishment on display, such as the public whipping of the soles of the feet but there was no systematic punishment via incarceration. In fact, there were no prisons to speak of at the time; they existed only in a makeshift form and fashion to keep and house criminals for a certain amount of time.

Nonetheless, this was about to change starting from 1910 due to growing lawlessness in the region. There was a decisive shift with a more systematic approach as uniforms were introduced in the 1910s and 20s and the concept and institution of the modern prison system starting to catch on and take hold.

This was what Golnar called the “public life of the prison” during which Iranians had to learn how to adjust and navigate around not getting arrested alongside ideas of good citizenship as opposed to more clear-cut criminal acts and behaviors of previous times. A new awareness of one’s own duties toward others and the nation began taking shape in the consciousness of its people with the introduction of the added punishment of being isolated and locked away from others and losing one’s liberty and freedom of movement due to transgressing and breaking the established codes, rules, and laws.

This was expanded upon by the Pahlavi period and different reasons and motivations were added to the fray. The immediate repercussion was that inmates increased from mere dozens to tens of thousands during that reign. Ironically, the post-revolutionary Islamic period, which had criticized the previous administration on its restrictive and inhumane prison system, rose and expanded to a quarter million, if not more, inmates.

The emergence of the modern prison system had various consequences on daily life. To begin with, despite the appearance and promises, justice was not necessarily enforced in a uniform and fair and balanced way. As there was not enough independent democratic oversight, it led to corruption and abuses, and not just an increase in corporal punishment but also the implementation of torture and forced confessions.

This changed the whole dynamic regarding power, citizenship, and incarceration. It also had effects on the psyche of its people around notions of freedom and unfreedom, the finer details and print between lawfulness and lawlessness as well as the distinction between what constituted good citizenship versus a more simplistic view of being a bad criminal.

Image of speaker with a slide of Iranian queen


That said, the purported intentions were not merely to punish but rather to reform and even train the ones who had allegedly swayed from the “good path.” While prisons were previously seen and referred to as places of council, during the Pahlavi period, it had a more therapeutic outlook, namely, to cure if not purify people from their criminal tendencies and to turn them into good citizens. Imprisonment was not presented as a punitive measure, but the inmate was treated as a patient and the prison was thought to provide the necessary albeit mandatory and enforced cure.

Yet, politics was always going to play a role and so there were political prisoners as opposed to ordinary or more common ones, i.e. those who had engaged in infractions ranging from minor to more serious crimes. Yet, political prisoners would always be a sticky point especially in less democratically inclined nations, where these inmates would be presented, represented, and framed as a national security threat or a danger to the public.

The lines would not be as clearly defined. Incidentally, many political dissenters ended up not only meeting each other in these confined spaces but they also created networks and learned from each other. In fact, Bozorg Alavi, a communist sympathizer, explained how “in prison, one read in earnest” and due to less distractions of daily life, preoccupations, or entertainment, their focus was more on learning and by extension to further their respective causes.

Alavi touted his educational achievements because it was thanks to prisons that he had learned Russian and English, which were most useful and helpful for his political aims and aspirations. Moreover, it was not uncommon to write and even publish clandestinely in prison and to even create political parties in confined and concentrated places like those.

Ironically, (note that history as well as politics tend to be filled with it), the prison system became the rallying cry of the revolution itself and many of them had had first-hand experience of being imprisoned. That did not, however, stop the new administration from creating an elaborate, even more restrictive, and punitive system themselves. Even so, the Islamic government may not have defined prisons as therapeutic, yet they considered them to be “virtue training schools,” where inmates were supposedly taught necessary life and vocational skills in addition to morality and Islamic values.

This is not too far off from the modern political system on a global scale. Even the term penitentiary involves a certain aspect of penitence, of having the criminal repent their sins and wrongdoing and upon release to be cured or reformed from doing evil. This is the blueprint or foundational structure of the prison system because it tends to see itself as a place of reform and rehabilitation. In some cases, therapy is an added element in addition to the establishment, support, and maintenance of law and order both within and outside of the prison walls.

It is something that both pre- and postrevolutionary periods have in common. The difference would lie in its focus, whereas the previous would be more secular, the other would be decidedly Islamic in nature and outlook. Nonetheless, the other aims of the modern prison system exist equally in various parts of the world, that is, to make society safer by incarcerating dangerous repeat offenders and keeping them off the streets for the benefit of the populace and society.

This becomes arbitrary when there is a lack of independent and institutional oversight with a less clearly defined and designated judiciary system. There is also both an overlap as well as a distinction between the role and purpose of prisons and mental asylums or psychiatric facilities. Yet, sick people, whether in the confines of a prison system or any other type of facility, ought to be treated humanely before there could be any talk of a potential cure.

Also, the prison system should not purposely aim to lock up troubled, troublesome, or troublemaking populations. Whether it is a social or political matter or a case of addiction and substance abuse, there need to be appropriate and distinct categories and measures applied to each case and situation.

In the current example of Iran, not only has the prison population exploded for a wide range of alleged misdemeanors and crimes but there is also more surveillance of its people. Ankle monitors are other forms of punishment and restrictions of movement that are being practiced and this includes people that are not officially counted as part of the prison system as they are not kept or housed within its compounds and premises.

There is, moreover, the use of biometric technology as well as traffic and police cameras to enforce rules established and enforced by the morality police for what are generally not considered offenses in other parts of the world. Technology has become part of a system that can in different ways lead to other types of control and punishment, which are not necessarily physical in nature.

The lecture by Golnar was quite insightful and thought-provoking as you can attest for yourself and as exemplified in the summary here. I found it most interesting that she kept referring to her book as a “book project” even though it has been already published. But I would like to take the opportunity to add some more thoughts to this topic of discussion and not just look at prisons as premises or means of enforcing and propagating ideas and ideology but also see it as a metaphor for our current socially and politically volatile times.

Prisons are not just social in nature but also in our imagination. Although Golnar briefly referred to it, her point of view was more about being controlled by others or government and elite forces, often perceived, designated, and judged as evil, malignant, and nefarious entities with a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda.

Yet there is a blind spot. By firmly believing and standing by her own point of view and interpretation of events and circumstances, she may be missing and overlooking important clues and opportunities. It is of course a tendency that people not only want to be right but to convince others that this is indeed so. It is not just her specifically I am referring to but also a wider culture around her that supports, encourages, and applauds her ideology, such as the institution of Simon Fraser itself.

Over the years, I have been to dozens of talks and lectures, and they claim and tout themselves in offering open dialogue as well as diversity. Yet with one notable albeit unintended yet utterly hilarious exception (I’d be glad to provide more details on this “colonial oversight” in the comment section should there be any interest), every single talk and lecture has been minor variations of a common theme and refrain. There is no element of surprise and no insight that does not perfectly if not artificially align with the established doctrine.

Those are taken as true undisputable and untouchable facts with no pause for reflection or allowance for any other points of views or observations that even slightly diverge from this “absolute truth.” This is hardly a case of open dialogue because it lacks and even prohibits a priori any type of openness or discussions.

Although there can be moments of insight and the furthering of education and knowledge, this is all framed within such an obvious and narrow agenda in mind that it can become rather counterproductive. An educational system ought to teach us how to think, not what to think, and sadly, our minds are not only being taken hostage here, but they are imprisoned as well as force fed, not unlike the system they tend to point fingers at.

Finally, prisons are not just places where movements are restricted, but the exact opposite can be the case where the place itself is off limits, so you are not able to go or move there at the peril of your own freedom and life while at the same time being away from it is a form of prison and punishment as it causes tremendous pain and suffering.

In the context of Iran, this applies to those who have sought political asylum abroad and may not be able to return to their homeland at risk of being punished, imprisoned, or worse. My father was one of those people who had deserted his homeland, sacrificing everything in the process, his home, his job and career, his family, and friends to save those who mattered most to him, us, his children.

Although we lived in different parts of the world, I do not think that he ever was at home or felt accepted. In Germany, that was certainly not the case, as we were unfortunately designated and branded as Ausländer (foreigners) despite living there for more than a decade and even if, as in my case, I did not have an accent, it was our looks that gave away that we did not belong.

In my own case, not having a home has been its own joy and cross. On one hand, it means that I am home wherever I feel at home and wherever my heart may be at a given moment, yet it also means that I have no specific home to speak of, no place to rest my weary head or be fully seen and accepted as who I am.

In ancient Greece, Socrates was first imprisoned but then he was given a choice, to either leave his home and live in exile or drink a cup of hemlock. He chose the bitter cup of poison because he could not imagine being away from his native home and country. He would rather die in a place where he was not free than be free in a place that was not his home.