Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What This Blog Could Become - Undiscriminating Traveler: along the boulevard

Yet sometimes where you live doesn’t give you what you need or want or whatever you’re secretly searching for, and when you find a place that does, that becomes the most rewarding travel, the kind where each footstep on the outside is accompanied by an echoing footstep within.   Phillip Graham

I have been, since the age of eleven, an expatriate.  Or should I say?  . . .  exmatriate.   For I have never lived for long outside my nation.  But my motherland is ever lost to me: when I came back for a time to the valley I was born, it was so changed, I was so changed, that living there made me more homesick than any other place I've ever lived.

As compensation perhaps, as an overquiet thirteen-year-old, I read and imagined other home places, real places, primarily towns in England, streets of London, filling books with imaginary itineraries and pictures I snipped out of travel booklets.  (Is thirteen a year of strange loneliness for everyone?)

And then I went to London in the body.

And it was just a place.  Like any other place notable for the things it is notable for. 

There are cracks in the sidewalk.  Grass grows up between them.  Cigarette butts look the same. 

This was not a depressing realization.  But a freeing one.  And the more I traveled, the more realized that freedom became. 

Rain sounds very much the same.  Birds fly in recognizable patterns.  Cold is cold wherever you go. 

And the satisfactions of travel - so well put by Graham above - "where each footstep outside is accompanied by an echoing footstep within" - came home with me.  Every place became a place to travel to . . . near or far . . . idiosyncrasies, funny road-signs and turns of phrase,  distinctive foods and shoes and characteristic sights, site-specific social customs. 

In fact, I could give up trying to come home.  To a home I have never found except in the people I love.  I could keep traveling no matter where I went, with the same open eye, the same readiness to be pleased with what is there, while I was there.

A friend whom I visited when we were both abroad (I have always wanted to say that - it sounds so deceptively grand) came home entirely dissatisfied with home.  Over the phone I would hear the despising and the scorn in her voice and how much better things were over there.  The lack of warmth, of authenticity in the people she now met.  The desiderata she could not find in stores once back in the States.

We had been very much alike, my friend and I, but some luck let me return as an everlasting traveller.  Irked, yes, at inconveniences and rudeness - but then, travel in the moment is often awful - meanwhile charmed even in the midst at habits of thought so distinctly regional, phrases, folkways, unspoken rituals, the picturesque,  all the things that make this place not there. 

Here in the town where I pay property taxes and where my children go to school.

This milltown that has lost its mill. 

Most common thing I hear from teenagers growing up here: "I can't wait to get out of this place." 

Most common thing I hear from parents who were once teenagers here: "I swore I'd never come back." 

But it doesn't have to be that way. 

"I'm going on holiday today," I tell the ladies at morning swim. 

"Where are you going?"

"Here. This town." 

The blessed sunlight on the pool this morning is making us all light-hearted.  They spin out fugues of fantasy with me.

"Oh, good choice to begin your day at the spa."

"I'll see if I can arrange a massage with the management."

"A bit of aromatherapy, later on?"

My itinerary is set by the demands of An Ordinary Day for a Mother of a Young School-Aged Child in the Pacific Northwest at the Dawn of the 21st Century.  The food bank.  The school bus.  The hills between here and there. I live my life today as if it were not my life, but representative.

A kind of double-awareness informs my eye.  That these are the lost days of the past for some future generation.  A future that would seem foreign if I were to go there suddenly now.  That these sights are all vintage sights for that future eye. 

Every detail.  Authenticity. To die for. 

Even contrived, it is authentic.  People live and die amidst this.  Break their hearts and break the bank.  Oh, the yearning of nostalgia in a cake of handmade soap.  Oh, the loneliness of scrubbed chairs sold secondhand and the smugness of other people's headboards propped up against a wall.

And I don't need a magic carpet to travel here . . . through time and space . . . traveling back from that foreign future, from the invisibilizing effect of mass media and its specious spectacle of "reality."  I can get here by just opening my eyes.

The bike helps. 

This town, like most tourist sites, opens itself best to the pedaller, the stroller-along.  And this morning and then afternoon on my way back home, everything is open to me - thrift shop, bakery, furniture store.  Every door welcomes me in.

Only the cars move past in oblivious herds.

And this is just the first street of this town.  Up ahead, there's more . . .

1 comment:

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

My goodness what a find of a place and to think, you "can get (t)here by just opening (your) eyes.
The bike helps."

I love seeing the details.

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