Rotten Roots: Liminality

When I returned to Glasgow in September, after spending the summer in my home country Italy, I remember it felt weird to be back. The so-familiar street names and buildings looked at me indifferently, while I gazed back at them with the excitement of seeing an old friend after a long time. Even if I had spent three months away, Glaswegian life had gone on and I was inevitably left behind, wondering about what happened during my absence.

Being thrown to Scotland in a plane was not enough to catch up with the time I’d lost. Instead, it was a three-hour-long transition from one place to another. I got on from a country and got off in a completely different one— with no mention of whatever lies in the middle. The quick journey felt a bit like teleportation, and it didn’t let me recognise the increasing distance separating me from Italy. Before I could even realise it, I was already in Scotland.

While returning to Scotland always feels like getting back home after a long, exhausting day, it took a few days for my mind to adjust to this different reality. In the tiny room of my flat, I wasn’t ready to face the world outside just yet. It was as if my body had moved too fast for my mind, which was left behind trying to cover the kilometres left and finally reuniting with my body in Scotland.

I slowly realised that the switch from Italy to Scotland did not merely represent a change of scenario. Instead, it was a journey between two different space-time dimensions. Italy is the place of my childhood, and as such it is simpler and slower. Glasgow is, instead, the setting of my fast-paced adulthood. Having lived most of my adult life in Glasgow, going back to my home country couldn’t have been anything but a return to my childhood. As well as going back in space, returning home is also a rewind of time.

Having different phases of life attached to different places can be disorientating. There is no linear flow of events going from start to present. Instead, a back-and-forth intermittence of “befores” and “afters”, of childhood memories and adult worries. It was this back-and-forth which made me feel alienated from Glasgow during the first few days after my arrival. I was re-entering a period of my life, resuming just where I had left in May.

This resumption was accompanied by a heterogeneous mixture of feelings. If on one hand I was enthusiast to be back in busy Glasgow, I also perceived a sense of guilt for leaving my home country. Enjoying my life in Glasgow felt like a betrayal of my roots, because I was leaving behind people, places, and memories.  Despite the awareness that Italy will never be able to give me what Glasgow has given me, turning my back to it put into question the value and place it has within my identity. How can two different realities coexist within the same person? Am I partly belonging to Glasgow and partly to Italy? And if yes, how?

In Elsa Morante’s novel, Arturo’s Island, the author beautifully captures the feeling of being torn between several places: “those like you, who have two different bloods in their veins, never find rest nor contentment; and whenever they are there, they would rather be here, and as soon as they return here, they immediately want to get away”*. People divided between different places are restless, because every place is part of themselves, and there is no way to have all of them at once. Their identity is fragmented, and their condition paradoxical, as every place feels like home, especially when they are not there anymore.

There is a specific word to describe the condition of being in-between places, which is liminality. Liminal is anything which is in the middle of two things, bearing features from both, though not entirely identifying with any. Liminality is a dimension out of time and space- or rather, it is in-between times and spaces. It is the exact moment of transition after leaving a starting point, though before reaching the finish line, with the disorientation that this state brings with it. I realised that I was feeling liminal between Italy and Glasgow: different parts of me belong to different places, but it seemed impossible to fully identify with only one of them. I was trapped in a bittersweet limbo between two parallel worlds.

How, then, can one deal with this division? How to deal with what is left behind?

In this series of articles, I hope to explore the meaning of belonging, the importance of having roots, and the relationship I have with my own place of origin.

As Morante points out, understanding our past can help reading our future: “You will go from one place to the other, as if you were escaping from prison, or looking for someone; but in fact you will just be following the different fates that mix up in your blood”*.

*Quotes from Arturo’s Island, by Elsa Morante.

[Silvia Paciaroni – she/her]

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