I was reminded of this story when I noticed that the kitchen table in Modena was the twin of the one I ‘borrowed’ from my sister and temporarily used in my bedroom in Yorkshire as a desk.

Grand-mère, from France, told the story to me in her kitchen as she was cooking dinner. I am lucky that here, in Italy, I suffer from very little homesickness. Skype and instant messaging help. But there are many times where I’ve sat in a crowded room and felt the odd one out.

Once upon a time…

Once, when she was younger, she met a young African man at a party. She’d seen him before and noted how cheerful and optimistic he appeared, but this time was different. He seemed visibly upset. Grand-mère asks to how he was. Lost and homesick came the response. Everyone else seemed to belong to the environment, but to him it felt unusual. The party mood had swept everyone else up, but he’d somehow been left behind. He felt the ache of disconnection. These people had different houses to what he was used to, their clothes were different, the way they touched was different. They spoke of experiences to which he couldn’t relate.

It was a big house. So Grand-mère suggested the man take himself away for a moment. There was plenty of space to go and take a moment of privacy to deal with the torment he was feeling inside him. Maybe a little quiet would help with the acute overwhelm.

A little while later he reappeared amid the party with a broad smile. He sought Grand-mère out and she was delighted to see his face glowing, but intrigued as to what had cause his transformation?

He explained that he’d begun to explore the house, and had come across the kitchen. It was here he’d realised that despite many things being different in France, not all were. In a pot on the kitchen side he’d found home, it took the shape of a simple wooden spoon. And it was this simple wooden tool that would have been just as in place in his mother’s kitchen as it was in this alien French chateau that had brought a smile to his face.

My tiny moments of familiarity

When I heard the story for the first time, I thought it was funny. None-the-less, in my life, I’m continually amazed at how such tiny moments of familiarity can bridge the gap between this unusual environment and the one that I traditionally call home. Here near Naples, in the room in which I now sit, there’s a print in a simple white frame hanging on the wall. I have a postcard in my bedroom at home of the same picture. Behind me, on the windowsill, there’s a plant pot I know from IKEA.

Let’s hope that the next time you’re homesick, you’ll find your wooden spoon.