Friday, 26 October 2012

The Tale of the Timid Traveller






Got the visa, got the moon-boots, got the coat that will cope with minus twenty degrees, and the gloves that I hope will keep my fingers connected to my hands in those sorts of temperatures. Got the floaty dress for the party in a centrally over-heated Moscow apartment and the nice thick underwear for walking by the Black Sea.
 Not got the swimwear for a quick dip (or at least, not taking it). There are limits, even if the Black Sea is hovering above freezing and a daily dip is good for you.
Ready, willing and still quite surprisingly able, I shouldn't really use the word 'timid' - but it makes for good alliteration.

You can see from the oddments above that I've been around the block a few times. Not only got the moon boots but also got some dresses and slave bangles (another traveller's tale there) from the Middle East, slippers from Central Asia, a Russian shawl and, throughout the house, countless European odds and ends and things full of memories.

Yet I am lacking, and I'm not sure how I can define the lack.
There are members of my family, notably my nephew, pohanginapete, for whom travel is an art and whose curiosity about the wider world is insatiable.

I travel.
I have travelled quite widely over the years, but always (or nearly always) in an extremely prosaic manner.
I have travelled for work reasons, and I've travelled in order to visit people I love.
I have enjoyed a great deal, and been badly frightened a few times. I've been lost and locked in and locked out and lost the keys for the luggage in a remote German village (so now I don't bother locking it).
I've eaten some weird things, some of them with my fingers, and I've drunk some fairly horrible and unidentifiable stuff to go with it all.
I've been a patient in hospitals where English is never even thought of, and where the treatment for an infected insect bite involves an unwashed soldering iron.
I have been delighted by mountains and cities older than time, by the green waters spilling from glaciers, and by the sunsets in an arid landscape. I have seen the desert bloom after rains.

Then I come home again, and all the time I am away from home, where ever my home may be, I have a mental retreat. It is a quiet room with a polished wooden floor. Even the nail-heads in the floor are polished to silver by the countless feet passing. There is a wide armchair, covered in worn tapestry, and there are fat velvet cushions in a deep rose colour.
I sit in the chair beside a log fire. It's a dull fire, mainly soft white ash which shifts slightly with a whispering sound, but there is warmth.
I sit there for a while.
I can sit there in the middle of the desert, or near a snow capped mountain.
I can sit there while a droning plane carries me vast distances.

Then I come home, really home, to the home we created as a family, and which now contains mostly just me, but is still there for everyone else. There I find the insatiable curiosity and endless fascination which perhaps should extend into the wider world is thoroughly satisfied by the patterns of growth and change in the garden, by my family and friends, by reading and writing and drawing, and by the work I do within my small community.
Things that grow deeper every time I do them.
Worlds within worlds.

10 comments:

Jacqueline Smith said...

A lovely piece on travel, it took me back on my own travels.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jacky: thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment. I hope it brought back some happy memories for you.

Molly said...

Lovely writing! I especially like your retreat, with the polished wooden floors and the rose coloured cushions and the cozy fire, whispering.....

The Elephant's Child said...

That retreat sounds simply heavenly. These days I do my travelling in my head and my heart, but both of them take me back to places I love.
Thank you for your words, and the wonderful, wonderful image. Have so much fun in Moscow (and tell us about it too).

Zhoen said...

The universe is everywhere.

Tasteful time traveler? Going boldly from the past into the future every moment.

pohanginapete said...

Sometimes, travel seems as far from art as I can imagine. Or maybe not — maybe even in the most difficult of times, dealing with adversity is a kind of art?

Insatiable curiosity, yes. Surely anyone who's no longer curious about anything has lost the will to live?

One of the most beautiful expressions of the state I'd like to attain comes from Geoff Dyer, quoting the apparently fictitious architect Vincenzo Volentieri: "Birds in flight ... are not between places, they carry their places with them. We never wonder where they live: they are at home in the sky, in flight. Flight is their way of being in the world."

It has to be read figuratively, not literally, but I find the thought utterly beautiful.

Relatively Retiring said...

Molly and Elephant's Child: thank you both - I thought you might like the imaginary retreat, which has been with me, unchanged, for many years.

Zhoen: I like the 'tasteful time traveller'.

P.Pete: I'm sticking to the 'art' word for you, and the next part of your comment absolutely confirms that.

Leslee said...

Ah, glad you'll be packing your retreat with you for the trip, which sounds like quite an adventure (though clearly you've had your share). I had a short-lived blog called The Sensitive Traveler in which I started to write about various ways for those of us with highly sensitive systems but adventurous spirits could navigate the challenges of traveling. (Alas, then a full-time job and now lack of resources prevent much travel.) Your mental retreat would make a wonderful tip for such travelers. Anyway, have a great time! Hope all goes smoothly.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: thank you. This is the summer trip that collapsed at the last minute, so now I'll be having two Christmases (English and Russian) as well as New Year in Moscow. I'm really glad it worked out this way (fingers firmly crossed, mental retreat already packed).

marigold jam said...

Lovely post - I think it is great that you have your mental retreat which you can take with you wherever you go and even more wonderful that you still live in your family home. For me it is not usually a house that is the retreat but my beloved England and some snapshot of a day spent somewhere I loved (just now it is a bench at Durlston Castle with a little cat on my knee as mentioned in my blog post of my visit to Swanage) I have never been an intrepid traveler and so my admiration for you is great. I am happy to travel via your blog posts and to see the wonderful places you visit second hand. Have a wonderful time.