It happens like this —
I’m driving alone.
(Finally, thank-you-lord, alone)
The only sound my radio,
But muteness is overpowering,
And all the lyrics and notes and movements,
The bloody banging and shouting and god-knows-what,
Falter and go quiet before ever reaching my ear canal.
Real life usually impedes on our little pleasures. It’s just how it plays out for most: in high school and university you had more time to do as you liked in between classes and studying (if you were studying at all). Even when you were shuffling part time work, internships and a typical course load, you somehow could find the energy and time for pub crawls, club nights, weekend trips into the city, etc. etc.
Not so much when you’ve hit your mid-20s. By then you’ve got loan officers and stacking bills and a 9 to 5 and whatever other ugly responsibility comes your way. But I don’t begrudge these things, I go with it and I steal my “little pleasures” when I can: a good solo dance session in the privacy of my room, an indulgent Vietnamese coffee on a hot day, and a lazy Saturday with nothing but a book and nargile to keep me company.
This summer, these are the books that stole my attention.
At every crossroad in my life, I have found myself returning to the words, the places, the music, the art that carried me before. Volver. Retourner. Zurückkehren.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote that “the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” I think that little tool of survival also helps us confront the future. And I confront it with Schubert in my ears, poetry open on my lap and photos of moments now passed.
Moving forward and saying your goodbyes isn’t easy, especially when you have been living for so long from city to city. Seeking and seeking. It’s even stranger when you realize that in so many ways, you always will go back to where you started.
I am counting down the days left in Europe and suddenly I’m remembering everything differently; nostalgia is a trickster and fear is his accomplice. It leaves you crossing yourself and muttering prayers.
But in honor of that cunning fox, memory, here are pieces of what was and is and will be.
It usually happens spontaneously, barrels at me without warning, a single question that leaves me um-ing and ah-ing: ‘What’s your favorite book? Suggest something for me to read!’
I have a degree in English literature and people would (wrongly) describe me as ‘well-read,’ so I suppose there is an expectation that I simply know what’s good. Let me tell you now: I don’t. Most of the things I read in university, I had to consume quickly because I was overloaded with novels and academic articles and poems and x-y-and-z. I forgot how to savor literature, and I suppose, I began to fall out of love with it. I probably fell asleep reading A Winter’s Tale on more than one occasion and I’m pretty sure there’s a Dickens’ novel tucked away somewhere that I still haven’t finished. Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard for my degree and held high expectations for myself but there are plenty of people who know more about literature than I do. Talk to them. They’ll have better advice.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an endless list of books I adore. Books that remind me of rainy mornings and hours gone by; books that remind me of people and places I have loved; books that evoke a bit too much nostalgia.
I’ve never liked the idea of being a tourist. I much prefer a traveler, a wanderer, a soul looking for other souls. Always being a little lost with no actual desire to be found. I often think of the writings and words of Paul Bowles, a sincere explorer who found himself in Morocco while many American expats were flooding the cafes of Paris:
“[A]nother important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”
I would like to believe there is a certain curiosity, a certain way in which one must interact with the world in order to become a traveler. It’s easy to book all-inclusive holidays on a coastal retreat, but it’s difficult to become part of the community around you, especially when you embed yourself so briefly. Becoming a traveler requires that you forcibly, consciously, continually enter yourself into a place of discomfort. To travel is to awaken yourself and your senses anew by an onslaught of foreign stimuli; sounds, smells, flavors, textures that are both pleasing and repulsive. To engage with the world outside of your place of comfort — to really reach out and seize it in all it’s mess and glory — you have to be willing to push yourself.