Sunday, September 2, 2012

...and Back Again

The only thing more fun than a 26-hour trip home is a 26-hour trip home involving being seated right behind a toddler who squalled for the last three hours on the plane to Gwangzhou and then standing right behind the same, still squalling, toddler, and his mom, for another hour, in an interminable line to be allowed to walk through the terminal.

Like labor pains (I guess) and certain presidencies-in-the-last-decade-that-shall-not-be-named, it seemed do go on forever. But eventually, gelatinous with fatigue, I made it home.

So, at long last, what did the trip mean? What does it mean, ten weeks after my return?

(It's taken me so long to write about it, I guess, because, first, who cares about somebody else's travel memories? And maybe I've been afraid that in trying to set down the tenuous but real pleasures of the trip, I would diminish them in my own mind. But here goes...)

In a nine-day period, I spent a solid 60 hours in the air or on the rails. As wonderful as it was to catch up with Lauren and Carsten in Denmark and Turtle in Germany, nothing I did was remarkable. There was nothing to justify all that time, all that weariness, all that money--mostly my boss' money, for the airfare, but still.

But what I got from it was worth every minute and every Won, kroner, and Euro.

To start, I'm used to being alone. But the hours spent walking the streets of Copenhagen, Bamberg, Nuremberg, and Munich were a special kind of aloneness, without heft (for lack of a better word), or external meaning, because there was no one to share them with--but also of total freedom.

More than almost any time in my life, I was in the moment, no place to be, nobody to please, just--I'll say it one more time--walking around and looking at stuff. I felt light and almost young. And that was a great gift, being solitary and rootless and curious and content.

More than that, I need to be reminded periodically that there are other places. Forty-one years in Ithaca, 13 in St. Augustine, four in Korea (as of two days ago exactly)... I allow myself to be utterly stuck in space, to the degree that I almost forget there are places where the people aren't just like Americans, or Koreans, where people think nothing of storing their schnitzels in their dirndls and their spaetzel in their lederhosen.

Um. That was a metaphor. Sort of.

I know this isn't logical, but in the endless hours in the air I really felt the reality, that I'm alive on a fragile blue orb rolling around in limitless space. I could feel, if not see, the curve of the earth.

Most of all, it reawakened a desire I'd almost forgotten I'd ever had. Now I want to take every opporunity to travel. Next summer? Back to the US, probably, maybe back at last to Ithaca, where my heart is. But Lauren says I need to go to Thailand, and Suzanne suggests the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Way of St. James) in northern Spain. (That walk changed Paolo Coelho's life.) Lying on the beach by the Andaman Sea? Hiking the mountains overlooking the Cantabrian Sea?

It could happen.