I hadn’t even stepped inside yet but had already declared Barcelona’s Sagrada Família my new favorite place in the world.
From the stony stations of the cross built into the façade on one side, to the splashes of color in just the right places all over the exterior, to dripping, stony incarnations of gingerbread house icing, to engraved names here and there of characters in the Bible stories the building tells—it was all magnificent. It was a storybook come to life.
“Mum, are we nearly there?” we whine for the five-hundredth time. A tired car, and an even more tired dad, turns off the main road and attacks the last leg of the journey along narrower and narrower high-hedged country lanes down to the familiar holiday home on the rugged coastline of England’s Cornwall.
Third-culture kids—non-Senegalese teenagers growing up in Senegal—aim their lenses around their city, transporting us into the scenes of Senegal they know as high school students in Dakar, the capital of this West African country.
STORY BY HEATHER M. SURLS PHOTOS BY ISABELLE BERNARD & HEATHER M. SURLS
Outside the northern Jordanian city of Ajloun, I sat cross-legged in Wael Rabadi’s olive grove, stripping ripe olives from just-pruned branches. Looking up from the work in my hands, I could see olive trees and oaks, grapevines and stone walls blanketing the hills in all directions. Eighteen hundred years ago, Rabadi’s ancestors owned this whole area, including the prominent hilltop behind me crowned by the centuries-old Ajloun Castle.
La Nonna’s name was Jone Corti then. Jo-ne. It slid off the tongue like a berry gelato. It
was strange to burden a young Italian girl with a Greek name, especially one that referred so specifically to Ionia and the adjacent sea. It annoyed me when her biddy friends mispronounced it, suffering the harsh J instead of the more lithe Y. p>
This happens when I have been alone too long—the words start to leak out of everything and they will not stop. I cannot look around, I cannot take a single step, without it becoming prose, and it is not welcome. It thrusts me into a place where language imposes this acute separation between me and everything else—leaks its ink out of the bark, the pavement, the sky, flowing directly from itself to me in the form of a stream of words, and it will not let me rest.
Some aspects of life really are the same, regardless of geography. My hairdresser’s shop feels like the Albanian version of Steel Magnolias, with women dropping in and back out again, mostly just stopping to chat or help themselves to my hairdresser’s tools and beauty supplies.
One winter day, I was walking my dog when my neighbor invited me to sled with her and her friends. “Don’t worry, we are all over 30 and from the neighborhood, so take a turn. I’ll hold your dog’s leash while you go.” I was so excited to have a snow day and to finally have some pandemic-era human interaction, along with the chance to live my inner child.