Lughnasa Monsoon Moon
Traveling is such sweet sorrow, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Yes, it involves parting and parting and parting, but it contains within its partings a going to and a coming from. We cannot travel without a departure point, a destination, and, for most us anyhow, a place to return. I say most because I know my brother Mark and I’m sure there are more of his tribe, who depart, arrive, then depart and arrive again, only to be ready to leave again, perhaps never to return. I know he broadly considers the U.S. home and so does come back here from time to time, but that’s different from having a house, three dogs and a wife.
When I go, I leave the familiarity of the daily routine, the comforts of, especially, my own bed, the easy knowledge of local destinations and short drives for hours, sometimes days on the road, for strange pillows and bathrooms, for a place, even a familiar one like the Twin Cities metro, changed in unexpected ways. I’ve only recently learned that for some travel and the strangeness it brings is unpleasant.
My family of origin traveled some, a lot for an average income 1950’s family, including several trips to the then very exotic land of Canada. My brother and sister have seen a lot of the world and I’ve seen my share though less than them. It is the strangeness that attracts me. The language I can’t read. The foods I don’t know. The countries filled with citizens of another loyalty than my own. The places where history’s long arc has unfolded, often over spans of time much longer than that of the United States. Art that can only be seen in particular museums like the Uffizi, the British, the Louvre. Buildings and ruins of buildings. Somehow in that strangeness my own particularity becomes highlighted, more clear.
I suppose you can travel only to assure yourself that your place is best, finding the aspects of another land less than your own. If you do, then the real opportunity of the traveler is lost. It is the other, the literally billions of others, living their lives, loving and hating and hoping and dreaming, in places distant from our own in miles and cultural assumptions that offer us humility, new ways of considering old ways. What can you eat? How can you prepare it? What’s beautiful? What’s important? How does design affect daily life? How can you get from here to there? The great lesson of travel is that the other is not really other, only a different expression of the same creature, of the same species.
Travel could, I would even say should, erode if not eliminate our sense of superiority, of uniqueness, of being better than, say, Mexicans or Bolivians or Taiwanese or Koreans. These are all just folks trying to get through the day, figure out some purpose to existence, loving their families, making mistakes. Different, perhaps, in clothing, language, music, food, but at bottom, human. Like you and me.