The romance of travel can be highly over-rated. Having been traveling for years, it is not uncommon to find that you have left everyone behind, in the dust, as it were. When you visit home, you learn that the life you once knew has morphed, for you this happened seemingly overnight, for people there, over the years, into a place place unknown, and, worse, unfelt. Sure, you can find threads of yourself here and there in the warp and weave of the old streets and cafes, but your ghost has mostly been replaced by newer, more vibrant ones. For you, “there is no there there”, to quote Gertrude Stein.
I felt this when I went to Seattle this year. I knew after 20 plus years and the high tech boom that it would have changed. But I really was apprehensive about encountering my own ghostly past and getting overwhelmed and disoriented with nostalgia. I almost changed my plans to go. I have felt lonely in a lot of strange places, but I didn’t look forward to feeling loneliness and longing in this city of my past, my family life, my children and my education. It is place where I lived the longest in one house, cooking and gardening, knowing the neighbors and the easiest routes to the parks and the uni. This was intimidating, going to the farthest north reaches of Burma into contested Shan territory was not.
What I encountered was almost entirely different than what I expected. There were so few traces of my life left there that I was more likely to find “myself” in the alleys of Bangkok than in Seattle. I would have felt less of an alien in Chittagong. I had spent those 2 decades working myself into the texture of other places.
Where I found my anchor, my Southern Star, was with my closest friends there, Julie and Christine, who welcomed me as the prodigal daughter. Sure they had changed, and had built lives that were unknown to me, but they were the loving connections to my past. Julie took me shopping for new glasses, as she had done many years before, because she was the one person I trusted most at that task. We drank wine, ate great food, and shared old love, with the dogs in our laps.
I had made up my mind several years ago to construct my travel plans around spending times with old friends. The last two Christmases were spent with John, traveling in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia – last year included his partner, Parvis. This year I will spend it with Martin’s family in Melbourne. I’ll hopefully be doing some traveling this year with Sergio.
This is that romantic time of the year, when certain songs bring tears and longing, and thoughts of home weigh heavy. If there is no longer a “home” to long for, a snowy Christmas special on television becomes the object of desire. Home for me now is the friends I love. Attachment to place feels like an obliterated abstraction, but in the end, the “place” in my heart is the love of friends. They are the real and the tangible, even if they are thousands of miles away.