In this morning’s newspaper I read the obituary of Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012). I fear I’d never heard of him, but despite my ignorance, he was one of the leading composers in post-war Germany.

As a young man starting his music career in a country devastated by war, Henze had many strikes against him. The article called him a Paradiesvogel (bird of paradise), an outsider, who was politically a Leftist and, for the times probably his most difficult gig, a homosexual.  In the eyes – and ears – of a conservative audience who was struggling in the war’s aftermath to regain some semblance of moral normality, Henze was far too colorful, his music far too ambiguous. Thus in the fifties he fled to Italy, to the freedom of the South, so the article states. His new neighborhood near Rome offered him the liberty his native land could not.

This set me thinking: Why did, for Henze, Italy equal freedom? I know a bit about the place and freedom is not the first notion that pops up. I think more of (claustrophobic?) family ties binding individuals, an almighty Church that whistles the moral tune (at least on the surface) and a politically fractured society.

But perhaps what Henze found there has nothing to do with the actual consistency of Italian society and his place in it. As an outsider, he would have operated beyond those constraints. They would not have applied to him. Italy was only the place he chose to live: good weather, good food, good musical heritage with which to connect.  Although considering the above constrictions, why had Italy been a place so well-endowed with musicians and artists? Material for another essay, perhaps? Here I will restrict my thoughts to one rite of passage: Leaving Home.

Leaving home is a natural consequence of growing up. Or at least it should be. Most kids – not just those who are at sword’s points with their parents – are chewing at the bit, counting the days till they can move out, whether they are off to university or they have enough cash to afford their own place. In this new millennium most parents are looking forward to having the house to themselves. Less laundry, less cooking, more cash for travel and other postponed pastimes.  To me it sounds like a win-win situation.

But: Some of us really left home, like Henze. Left homelands for foreign ones, initially temporarily. Until temporary somehow, gradually, sneaked up on you, and you suddenly realized you’d emigrated.

Does leaving your homeland work as liberation? It did for me. But it wasn’t until I discovered Garrison Keillor’s book, appropriately titled Leaving Home, that I found someone who had already articulated my incoherent thoughts on the subject. In the introduction to his book he writes:

“The beauty of a foreign land is that foreign places help your mind float free and reduce you to such simplicity, you can almost be a child, mon ami. You only know the words for good night and good day and please. You don’t know how to say ‘My life is torn between immutable existential uncertainties.’” 

   “Leaving home is a kind of forgiveness, and when you get among strangers, you’re amazed at how decent they seem. Nobody smirks at you or gossips about you, nobody resents your successes or relishes your defeats. You get to start over, a sort of redemption.”

 Nothing left to add but: Amen. And thanks to Garrison Keillor!



Filed under Fiction and Other Truths

12 responses to “LEAVING HOME

  1. You are such a great writer Debbie, a pleasure to read. Yes, I left home at 18 and moved to another country. I do not think it is the case so much now here in Australia, kids are staying with their parents into their twenties and even thirties. Lyn

  2. Mornin’ Lyn, or whatever part of the day this finds you at. Thanks for the compliment, but really it’s Kleillor’s words that hit the mark – and I was careful not to take credit for them (…although I wish I had written them). As to the Aussie kids staying home: you need to visit London and environs. They’re all over the place – including an Aussie relative of my hubby.
    Take care!

  3. How the hell does this thing work? Has it worked? As a self styled comedian I’m determined to give up politics when EU politicians stop making me laugh. My suggestion is that we dub ‘Smirke’ the dour duo that are ensuring that the paltry gains that the EU has brought are firmly set at nought. Flamby, the arch-énarque whose public persona makes the scintilla of grey that was John Major look like Zorro on speed, is always smirking as he gets out of his limo before delivering yet another disappointment. Could it be a Proustian remembrance of things past as he ponders his more than interesting private life? As for the other lad, Edwina wasn’t much of a pull. In the old days the double act was ‘Sparkle’ to reflect the fact that thinner of the two was a handfull of childish bright brashness – but mercifully short.

  4. one day I’ll learn to type. The new moniker is ‘Smirkle’

  5. there’s an excess of moderation here in the best oxymoronic tradition

  6. Thanks, Nic, for your comments. Yes, it’s working now – as you see appove. Although I’m not sure they fit in with Leaving Home. But not to worry. Next time just go to the particular post you want to comment on. I think you wanted a say on the EU peace prize? I’m not absolutely sure who Smirkel, Flamby and Edwina are, though I’m certain you are willing to elaborate. And as you see, no oxymoron here. I’ve published your comments completely uncensured and look forward to your contribution to making this blog worth reading. Cheers, Debbie

  7. The book arrived today and the little man I sent down to the remotest filing cabinet in my brain finally came up with the pieces I used to play arranged for guitar taken from Hanz Werner Henze’s opera ‘ Drei Maerchenbilder aus Pollicino. They were fun but I can’t find the music to refresh the memory. It’s not often I play stuff written by an ex member of the Hitler youth!!! He did reform – bit like the Pope really.Tchuessle Nic

    • Can I assume that the above-mentioned book is the one I wrote? Sorry it took so long – but not really my fault so don’t know why I’m apolgizing…. Thanks for coming up with your memory of Henze – he was actually the subject of this post. And yes, a lot of people who went on to become something/someone else did go through the Hitler Jugend. At the time it was difficult gig to avoid.

  8. Flamby is the French nickname for the current president. So called because of his penchant for a brand of pre-packaged blancmange type pudding. Sparkle refers to Sarko and auntie Angie – the previous not quite so dour duo.

  9. Thank you for such an subtle, poignant piece. It truly hit home, even though I have, as you say, already left it!

  10. Hi Suzanne, thanks for stopping by and reading my piece. I think leaving home is a subject worth a lot of thought. Just the same, there is something very special about having a real home (in German: Heimat), too. I live in a small village in Germany and I never cease to be fascinated by the families here that have been in this one spot for centuries. Their roots must have reached the center of the earth by now.
    All the best to you, Debbie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s