Jaci Stephen:'Christmas decorations on Rodeo Drive are making me pine for Cardiff's lights'

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

Hiraeth. It's a word I used on my Facebook page this week, saying that I was suffering from a rather severe bout of it. It is a Welsh word that, as far as I can gather, doesn't have an English equivalent, and it means, quite simply, a deep longing for home.

It's not a longing for your house or any specific individual, and the only way I can explain it is in terms of its being a longing for one's homeland: the place where you left your heart. No matter how far you travel, hiraeth is the rhythm of your innermost being, always reminding you of the place from which you came and gave you life.

Maybe it was the Christmas decorations on Rodeo Drive, and quite what it was about those that made me pine for the half-dozen light-bulbs in Cardiff, I don't know; but hiraeth came upon me suddenly.

I love LA. I love the sun, the easier pace of life, the lower utility bills, the great service in bars, restaurants and at the end of the phone. I love being able to go to the gym and eat healthily with such ease and without being considered a freak.

But then there is that little corner of a foreign field that is, to me, forever Wales, and I am as attached to it now as the day I was born.

I know how lucky I am to be living in Beverly Hills, where the sun rises in my living room and sets in my office. I know that for many, this would be the trip of a lifetime, and that even to see the Hollywood sign on the hills just once, let alone every day, would be one of life's great joys. And I know that I am blessed to have a job that enables me to travel, and that I have been equally blessed to have the good health that enables me to do that.

All of this I know in my head. But then there's hiraeth. That aching, longing, tugging of the heart that, this week, has seen me sobbing uncontrollably to go home – to my family, my friends, my homeland. To where I belong.

I've been looking at the languages of other cultures to see if they contain a word that conveys the same sentiment. Arabic has the word "ghurba", which is a derivative of the word for stranger, and in the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic is explained as: "absence from the homeland: separation from one's native country, banishment, exile; life or place away from home." it is also often translated as "Diaspora".

Like hiraeth, "ghurba" also carries with it an intense, melancholic feeling of longing, nostalgia, homesickness and separation: of, according to the Canadian newspaper columnist Ghada Al Atrash Janbey, "a severe patriotic yearning for a place where one's heart was not only living, but ... to a place where one's heart danced to the silence of a homeland's soul."

There is a word for it in Portuguese, too – "saudade" – and it expresses a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one loved but is now gone. It also carries fatalist undertones and the repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return – or even, as one translation puts it: "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist". Apparently, this state of mind is part of the Portuguese way of life – a feeling of absence, something missing, and yet a desire for presence rather than absence; or, as they say in Portuguese, a strong desire to "matar as saudades" (literally, to kill the saudades). I don't know about you, but that kind of thinking isn't going to put Lisbon top of my must-see holiday destinations.

The Fins have "kaiho" – a state of involuntary solitude, in which the subject feels incompleteness and yearns for something unobtainable or extremely difficult and tedious to attain. My Welsh hiraeth buddies are a veritable choir of laughing policemen among this lot.

In Korean, "keurium" is the closest to saudade, and reflects a yearning for anything that has left a deep impression on the heart – a memory, place, person etc. My favourite word so far to describe my 6,000 miles away from home hiraeth is the Dutch one: "weemoed", which is apparently a "fuzzy form" of nostalgia. If we're talking about Holland, we don't have to guess for very long quite why that nostalgia might be fuzzy, but I like the word.

Whatever you call it in any language, it's a desperate longing for home. I know it will pass, but, like most clichés, Home is Where the Heart Is didn't earn its cliché status for nothing.

To read Jaci Stephen's blog, LA Not So Confidential, in full go to: LANotSoConfidential.blogspot.com