“In the best travel books the word “alone” is implied on every exciting page, as subtle and ineradicable as a watermark. The conceit of this, the idea of being able to report it made up for the discomfort. Alone, alone: it was like proof of my success. I had had to travel very far to arrive at this solitary condition.” – The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux
It has been weeks now since I walked out of my old Manhattan apartment, and it feels like I am just now shaking my NYC hangover. I have been slowly waking up, piecing together a mosaic of new experiences and faces mixed together with the old, revisiting memories that seem to have resurfaced from the deepest corners of my mind. I have spent the last several days jotting thoughts on napkins, old airline or train tickets, and tour pamphlets, only now able to overcome the mental block that seems to materialize every time I sit down at the computer to start this blog. Two travelers war inside me – one acknowledges the beauty and simplicity of getting lost (and not leaving a social media trail behind to be found) and the other wants to share, connect, force myself to use this opportunity to write and create. I want to reconcile the two. Travel can be lovely, travel can be lonely, travel can be so many things that deserve reflection.
A few week ago I drafted a blog post that read:
“Sometimes in life we don’t do things when we should. We second-guess ourselves and let important things slip away like sand through an hour glass we keep turning on its head, over and over. We revisit and rehash ideas or thoughts that first came to us in a single breath from somewhere deep and honest, until we beat them dead with rationality, picking out every flaw until we can’t recognize what our original thought or dream was in the first place. Why do we do this? I have a good friend who has been encouraging me to start this blog for months (years..?), and I am too embarrassed to admit that I have five drafts – five – of things that I wrote months ago. Reading them now, all of it seems like one long irrelevant afterthought. While I was busy being hesitant and afraid, or trying to make things better (who needs editing anyway?), life happened.”
So this is my attempt to slow things down and share some thoughts with you, candidly and unabashedly. I am in Milan. I am a cliché, sitting at the kitchen table of an apartment that is not my own, balcony doors open, breeze blowing through, sipping an espresso, reflecting on all that has happened since I first arrived in Europe on June 28th. In the adjacent building I can see a woman hanging laundry on her balcony in such a mundane manner that it makes me homesick for the trivial – for the domesticity and consistency of any given day simply being “laundry day”. However, I am excited by the subtle uneasiness I can feel in my belly – tomorrow morning I will be on a train to Rome and I just bought my ticket 4 hours ago. Since walking out of my Lower East Side apartment with my comically large backpacks, I have been to five countries and several cities – deciding each new destination no sooner than a few days before arriving in it.
My journey (which originally started as a trip to Greece) has taken a few unexpected turns. I have been adding and subtracting destinations, sometimes due to a cheap ticket or ease of travel, sometimes unable to bear the thought of leaving a place or person I’ve only just begun to know, sometimes due to nothing more than thinking it might be nice to wake up in a bed in Rome tomorrow. Each ticket purchase is followed by an insidious panic – that is the truth. Any traveler who tells you that every moment on the road is empowering and beautiful is lying. An unplanned, solitary, ticket to Rome can bring on nervousness at best – an existential crisis at worst. “Who the hell travels to one of the most romantic cities on earth, alone?!” I asked a good friend this morning between nervous laughs. Yet my impulses have not led me astray thus far, each one fueling the fire and pushing me on to next. Another friend offered his thoughts in a message: “No you got it all wrong, only the most romantic go to Rome alone!” I am afraid he is right, and thanks to the Audrey Hepburn obsession of my youth (and lets be honest, adulthood), visions of “Roman Holiday” dance in my head.
I have lifted the thin veil New York had draped over me, wiped away the gossamer web – in many ways the journey has just begun and I am finally ready to share it.
Tonight I will enjoy one final night in the company of an old friend, appreciating the subtle calm that comes with the familiar. Tomorrow, I will revel in the foreign, in the possibility of strangers who will become new friends. Tomorrow, I catch the train for Roma!