My Old Kentucky Homesickness

a native bunny from my backyard in Louisville KentuckyI love Amsterdam, but every so often I get a hankering for my home town. Usually it’s not a specific thing I’m missing, more the general feel of the place. Sometimes it’s comforting to FaceTime with my friends and family, but I’ve discovered that nothing conjures up the feeling of being back in Kentucky like engaging the senses.

I shot this at a wedding deep in the woods of Scott County, Kentucky. The bride and groom had their reception on the lot where they would soon build their own home together.The weather in Amsterdam is still creeping around in the 40s and 50s but I know it’s already getting muggy back in Louisville. I never thought I’d miss the humid nights thick with mosquitos, but when you’re bundling up and wearing gloves in late April (it snowed this morning), the close, sticky air of a late spring night in Kentucky starts to sound really appealing. It’s not exactly cost-effective to crank up the heat and boil a pot of water whenever I get homesick so I found another solution. Somewhere towards the bottom of a list of white noise machine settings or special effects you’ll find a recording of crickets and cicadas. If I turn off all the lights in my apartment and put on that sound, the chirps immediately transport my mind to a porch in the not-quite-South. It’s uncanny.

There are other sounds – voices, really – that remind me of my Kentucky home. Putting on the local NPR affiliate (wut up WFPL) provides a subtle backdrop that is so familiar, the content is irrelevant. It’s nice to slip into that perspective occasionally, updating myself on the things that are only important when you live in Louisville. Flea Off Market, bike lanes in Butchertown, whatever shit Pitino has stepped in recently. After moving away, I stayed on top of local Louisville news for a few months but eventually found it overwhelming and let it go. Now I like to drop in very occasionally, just to get a taste. More for the sensory experience than any strong desire to stay current. The accents, the inside jokes, the local slang and neighborhood jargon, where people say things like “chow wagon,” “the Watterson,” and “Kentuckiana.”

the chow wagon is a fixture at Waterfront Park in Louisville, Kentucky during the week leading up to the Kentucky DerbySimilarly, certain smells and tastes also have magical powers. When I was home visiting several months ago, I stocked up on lots of personal care products like lotions and soaps. When you switch countries in adulthood, you’re probably already pretty brand-loyal to things like toothpaste and laundry detergent. Things that you don’t think much about, but make up an important part of the chemical mixture of your life-smell. I’ve found some new products in the Netherlands that I like well enough, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes when I dip into my stash of basic smell-good stuff from home.

this jockey was warming up horses during a session of Dawn at the Downs at Churchill Downs preceding the Kentucky Derby

When it comes to food, surprisingly, I don’t really miss the dishes specific to Kentucky (with the exception of bourbon, but luckily you can buy Maker’s Mark here). I don’t yearn for grits or hot browns or benedictine. Sometimes I get a craving for fried green tomatoes, but so far I’ve been able to convince myself that green tomatoes are always just out of season. It’s not like you can find green tomatoes at Kroger 365 days a year either.

Embarrassingly, what I miss most in terms of cuisine are typical American processed foods, especially candy and cereal. Again, there are products here that I love and will certainly miss one day (the chocolate in the Europe is just scientifically better and the Dutch gummy game is unbeatable), but most of the major brand candy has a slightly different recipe and just doesn’t taste quite right. The Peanut M&Ms are weird, more like sixlets. There are, counterintuitively, no Swedish fish.

a photogenic front porch in my hometown of Louisville, KentuckyIf the Dutch have aged beyond eating chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on buttered bread for breakfast, they prefer to take in their morning calories in the form of a solid brick of bran or spelt, or finely shaved rocks on top of unsweetened yoghurt. The wackiest breakfast cereal you can find here is a Honey Nut Cheerios knock-off. Whenever my mom asks what I want for my birthday or Christmas, all I can usually come up with is Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or Frosted Mini-Wheats.

I usually only get a wave of homesickness when I’m feeling down in general, so I’ve learned to prioritize my self-care routine. Growing things is super restorative, and having indoor plants makes the winter infinitely more tolerable. I force myself to spend some time outside, even if it’s raining or hailing or there are hurricane winds. I’ve started to do yoga on a more regular basis again and even doing a handful of vinyasa flows for 10 minutes has beneficial returns.

Perversely, the thing that seems to banish the homesickness more effectively than anything else is to remind myself why I love my new home. Kentucky will always hold a warm special place in my heart, but when I’m visiting the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, cycling home drunk on the wet brick-paved streets, or grinning along with a crush of other happy people at a festival, it’s hard to feel anything but joy.

a beautiful cross street highlighting the bridges over the canals in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam

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