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Why I Travel and Why I Stop

September 22, 2013

“A song for /someone who needs somewhere/ to long for. Homesick/ Cause I no longer know where home is.” – Kings of Convenience, Homesick

Near Tower Bridge Road, 2013.

My favorite fountain in London, near where I lived. I loved taking photos of the bathing women in different lights.

I have snuck into an Ottoman mosque with a professional Egyptian masseuse and danced on the roof under the stars. I have been told that I talk a lot of shite by an old drunk Scottish man in a pub in Edinburgh. I have hitchhiked my way from Jerash to Amman, getting in debates about Mohammed in Arabic with four devout men who I just met.  I have climbed to the top of Table Mountain, and then descended down the other side into the verdant gardens of Kirstenbosch.  I have night dived around Saba island, the golden bioluminescence trailing my fingers as I descended into the inky water with my flashlight. I have weaseled my way into an African UN prison facility by pretending to be someone else’s secretary and looking demure and non-threatening. I have skinny dipped with my best friend on a cool night at a beach outside of Barcelona, after a five course meal served by a kind old man who we communicated with quite well, despite him having no English and us no Spanish.  I have woken up on a train and had to ask what Eastern European country I was in, honestly unsure of the answer I would receive (It was still Serbia, luckily). I have wandered, and lingered, and missed flights and made connections.  I know at least a few words in over a dozen languages.  I have friends on six continents.

I like stalking ducks.

Pretty, right? In Oxford in fall.

And I love it.  The thrill of traveling is in my blood, my bones, the core of who I am. Some of the happiest moments of my life have resulted from traveling, from being somewhere outside of my comfort zone, outside of my normal realm of existence.  But there is an opportunity cost to everything; there is no such thing as a free lunch.  And traveling, with its joys, too has its commiserate costs.

I have had to let go of loved ones because we would not be in the same country for the foreseeable future.  I have found myself very much alone for large swathes of time, with only the unacknowledged intimacy of a waiter’s hand brushing mine as he passed me the check.  I have been in situations that were dangerous, situations which were uncomfortable, situations that have left me shaking with anger.  I have no one community where I belong.  This means, that much like in the Kings of Convenience song, I no longer know where home is.  Everywhere I live, I have people important to me somewhere else.  Everywhere I live, I feel like something is missing, that I miss something from a previous home.

Moments of complete comfort, grace and love with friends who know me so well that I can even occasionally be a jerk and they still love me.

This is what I miss.

The litany of loss can be summed up in three words: lack of community.  I exist in a third space, not American, not expat, but as an expat American, a hybrid of both conceptions of self and yet gestalt.  Having lived in five different cities in the past three years means that each time I begin to anchor myself in a place, I have to say goodbye once more.  Implicit in making new friends is that they are to be ‘for now’ only; I will leave them soon enough. Just as I begin to feel that I know a place, that I have a favorite coffee shop, a restaurant where they ask me if I want my usual, a route from my flat to my place of business that I know well enough to sleep walk it, I lose these things.  My suitcase weighs just under 50 pounds, the way I pack it with my clothes rolled up and my socks and underwear shoved into my water bottle.  I have more travel-sized containers of shampoo in my closet than I do pairs of shoes.  I should have learned with habit to no longer mourn change, the shock of coming and going. But it still takes its toll.  And always being outside of my comfort zone wears me down; it’s hard never feeling at peace.  I feel like I always have to be on top of everything just to survive.  I miss being able to lean on other people.

But please, don’t misunderstand: there is a community of sorts of American expats, for those who love to travel in the sort of way I do are a smaller and more integrated bunch than you might imagine.  The person I met in Jordan will have recently lived in Tbilisi and have a friend she met there that is now in Rwanda and happy to meet up with me there for coffee.  It’s just that this community of likeminded people are like wheat in the wind, and though useful for finding a place to sleep, or commiserating at the difficulty of securing a visa to Libya, they ultimately do to you what you do to everyone else: vanish and exist only in the ether of facebook updates and sporadic emails.

Shudder, Washington DC.  The horror!

Eh, and worst comes to worst, there is always my family’s place.

So I have decided to try something a little different.  I have moved to Ann Arbor, where, if all goes as according to plan, I will be for the next three years.  Three whole years in one location.  Time enough to really put down some roots, meet people without knowing in the back of my mind that I better not get too attached because I soon will go.  I can build up instead of sideways.  I took immense pleasure in buying an actual book for the first time in ages, thrilled that I didn’t have to calculate its weight and whether it was worth hauling along to the next destination.  And hopefully the friends I make here can be for keeps.  I’ll no longer play act house and good neighbor and exuberant co-worker, I’ll just be.  Be myself still, of course, but no longer so rigidly independent, separated, fierce, removed.  I can entangle myself in whatever I wish without thoughts of future extrication.

I am sure at some point I will look at Kayak or Trip Advisor with a small smile on my face and imagine the possibilities.  There is so much I haven’t seen or done yet, so many places I have yet to live.  But for the foreseeable future (how lovely that phrase is!) I am here.  Closer to Paris, Michigan than Paris, France.  Feeling excited, not trapped, to be just here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2013 8:11 PM

    There’s always a door open on Ayr Lane.

  2. bertmwiner2002@yahoo.com permalink
    September 23, 2013 4:27 PM

    Dear Luca, I read your thoughts from the middle seat, and appreciate your own observations, enjoyment of travel, and your recogition that you feel the need to settle in a site where you will be part of a community. Ann Arbor and  your undertaking the study of law in Michigan are a good fit, and it’s also a plus that Isabelle is in the vicinity. You exercise your mind in your writing, and now will apply it to solving problems of law.

    I will divert my attention now to some of my own experiences. I went to Yale  and in my third year took the course in Organic Chemistry. I had in mind going into Medicine, and most premed students across the nation hate the course in Orgamic Chemistry.  The Professor I happened to have asked the class to learn the major facts of that course in the first semester, and then in the second semester he asked us to solve problems, some of which had never been solved before. That was challenging, and I loved it, and found I could solve some of them. That brings me back to the idea of the satisfaction of solving problems. Going forward, that was something I found wonderful in Medicine, where that was fundamental, and was commonly needed. I became an astute diagnostician. After medical school, I interned  in Internal Medicine, then took a year at the Mallory Institute of Pathology, a famous place for the study of disease, then was In Panama by order of the gov’t in the late 1940s, then I was at The Beth Israel Hospital in Internal Medicine for 2 years, then I had my own research lab at the BI and Harvard Medical School, and competed with researchers throughout the country, and had some important totally new findings. The major one was my finding that a system involving a protein called renin was present in normal mankind, and gave rise to a series of peptides strongly influencing blood pressure and salt and water balance. It was the major research paper of that year (1961), and I presented it at the major research society in the USA. Subsequently I went into the fulltime practice of Internal Medicine but had to stop after carotid artery problems in 1989. Now I am at the age of 91+, and am active in a discussion group where I’ ve presented 37 major talks. Josh put my first 16 into a bound volume, 14 more into a second volume, and seven more not yet into the third volume. My last one was a month ago and was on China.

    And shortly you will be solving problems in the field of law. I think one of the great pleasures in life is the solving of problems, and I’m sure you will be good at it.

    Love,

    Papa Bert.

    ________________________________

  3. November 27, 2013 3:22 PM

    I know the feeling of no longer knowing where home is, though not as well as you no doubt. Loneliness is hard. I hope you do find (and build) a good community there.

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