In response to one of my recent Facebook travel posts, my Aunty Jan responded, “Wow, you guys are traveling a lot lately!”. That started me thinking about my love for travel; and why it’s such an important part of my (and Ralph’s) life. I noticed an elderly couple in Roma’s Fiumicino Airport today on our way back to New York: holding hands, energetically pulling their small roll-aboards behind them at a brisk, determined pace. You can spot a seasoned traveler a mile away: minimal luggage, sailing cleanly and quickly through an airport (rather than standing, dazed, mouths agape, at the TV monitors, blocking all traffic around them.) I wondered, “Are they young at heart, therefore they travel? Or…do they travel, therefore they are young at heart?”. I pondered it for about an hour (I ponder a lot, as you will see from upcoming blog posts), then came to the conclusion that though it is a mixture of both, the answer leans heavily toward the latter – they travel, therefore they are young at heart.
Travel keeps you young by re-awakening the child in you. Everything about traveling to a foreign place (whether it be across 7 time zones or the other side of the tracks in your own hometown) is like being a child again. You experience everything fresh and anew: new places, new languages, new ways of doing things. People (strangers, in fact) have to show you the way, explain things to you, teach you how to speak, how to listen, how to behave properly. You have to try new foods; and your reactions are just like those of a child trying eggplant or cotton candy for the first time: you wrinkle your nose in disgust and grab the nearest beverage to wash it (and the memory of it) down, or your eyes grow to saucers and you lick your lips in recognition of a new addiction. When you travel, you are afraid of getting lost; yet you can’t wait to venture ahead – through that narrow alleyway, down that craggy ravine, into that deeper, bluer water. You greet everything with equal parts fear and exhilaration, like your first rollercoaster ride, your first trip away from home without your parents, your first kiss.
The travel experience can be a beautiful thing, a uniquely creative affair. The trip itself is just an empty canvas, a blob of clay awaiting your touch. You are the painter, the potter; and the place you visit, the people you encounter, the experiences you allow yourself, are your tools and your media. You can sculpt and paint with the familiar, cellophane-wrapped logs of modeling clay in the 3 primary colors (yawn!) or the pre-packaged, dime-store paint-by-numbers kit (with it’s horrid paintbrushes that start out with 5 mangy, synthetic hairs and end up with 2 by the time you’re done); or you can venture out into the wilderness, the unknown, to execute a wild and wonderful composition of charcoal strokes and swirling ochres, siennas and umbers, or handbuild an organic, “breathing” body of vivid, palm-staining riverbed clay studded with bits of shell and fossil. No one determines the outcome but you, really.
This is what it means to travel…to artistically create “works of life”, to become a native of the world, to bravely surrender your soft underbelly by being a beginner, a child again…to be re-schooled in the filled-to-capacity class, Life 101…to know (once more) what youthfulness feels like.
And contrary to popular belief, it really doesn’t require a lot of money to travel. “Travel” can mean heading to the next state, next town over…or even your own city. (There’s nothing more fun than being a tourist in your own hometown!) I camped out for several days in a backpackers’ lodge in New Delhi’s Paharganj district for less than $5/night; and in 2009, I backpacked solo for 2 weeks through Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest…after being robbed of all my money less than an hour after arriving in Europe from New York. (I will re-post those travel blogs soon, if your curiosity is piqued.) A crispy (“bien cuit”), paper-wrapped baguette from a corner boulangerie and a bottle of grocery-store wine, all for pocket change, have been some of my most memorable meals in Paris.
See yourself, as I see myself and Ralph, holding hands when we’re in our eighties…hurriedly pulling our roll-aboards through JFK (I’m guessing we will have eschewed backpacks by then) to catch our flight to Timbuktu. (Better yet, come WITH us to Timbuktu!) We can live life like Auntie Mame, ebullient and daring…or we can play it safe, stay home and watch reality TV – the canvas left unpainted and bare, the unmolded clay a shrunken, hardened rock, rattling in its container. I know my choice. I’m with YOU, Rosalind Russell…”live, live, LIIIIIVE!!!!”