Break - on belonging

Returning to a place can be an exercise in hunt-the-memory. Up until recently my conception of the Algarve, where I grew up nearly two decades ago, was one where key adolescent memories, like wraiths, walked amongst the olive trees and orange groves, hid in caves in the cliff at my favourite beaches, and wandered the lanes of the sea-side towns where I first went drinking and chasing girls. They pounce when I pass and there, right then, at that moment, I'm inhabiting a memory of my adolescence.

A fleeting two-week visit can be comprised mostly of these illuminations, both expected and surprising. And the plane from Faro leaves the ground with me thinking that these fading memories are the sum of the attachment I have to the Algarve, and that each brief return visit is almost just a review of my adolescence, a remembering of a fading memory.

I'm here for a month and I leave on Friday. I've had enough time to realise that these ambushing memories are not the sum of the attachment I have to the Algarve, not at all. I've been back long enough for the fire-work star-bursts of memory to cease, and for the place itself to rise like a moon. What those years of living here created were not just the key memories, they created a texture, one that persists like the ghost of a bright light when one closes one's eyes. The texture is the millieu of those key events. The texture is the gutural language, it's the smell of orange blossom and ripe carob, it's the white dust of the back roads and the red-orange earth crumbling under the roots of an almond tree. It's the food and the terracotta and whitewash, and the dry heat and the sudden June down-pours that leave the earth smelling rich, like raw tobacco. Being back activates this texture. It's not the key memories that glow brightly, the whole place throbs with warming recognition. There's a word for that: home.