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May 27, 2009

A sense of place - thinking about travel & home

I'm currently reading Richard Russo's The Bridge of Sighs. The book begins with the main character describing his almost anachronistic rootedness in a place - his hometown - a place he's never really left.  The narrator (one of them) has never traveled much at all, and is preparing to travel to Italy - leaving the country for the first time.

I cracked the book on my plane flight back to this fair city from a simultaneously fun, but frustrating weekend at a conference that left me chaffing at some of the responsibilities of my job and the choices I'd made with regards to it. I started thinking about travel, and homecoming and the importance of the idea of home.

I enjoy travel - love it for the way it upends me out of my routines, my complacencies, my ruts. It exposes me to new places, foods, communities, accents and languages, attitudes and regional quirks, and in doing so makes me reconsider all of those elements of my own life. Shakes the dust off, challenges my own assumptions, and adds a new lustre to those previously wearying chores and life moments. The grocery store, the walk to the dry cleaner, my office all feel a little fresher.

But travel is also wearying. All that newness and disruption requires energy and management. We get into routines because they streamline life in certain ways and changing them requires more "cycles" of the brain and body. Add to this the indignities of travel - the cramming, jostling, lines, power struggles over security theater, the endless details of identification, liquids and compliance with regulations. Not only has travel lost its glamour, it's lost any element of enjoyment or relaxation and has become purely a utility - a way to get from A to B rather than a journey, or a part of the experience. Even when nothing particularly goes wrong, travel is exhausting.

So fleeing the stuffy confines of the airport on Sunday was like the release of a prisoner after a long captivity. I was headed Home, to the cats and their attendant dirt, my apartment, crammed full of its books, and ceramics, handmedown furniture and threadbare oriental rungs. The city itself welcomed me as only this place can, with a warm May evening, air soft and scented with honeysuckle through the open cab window as it wended its way past parks, glimmering river and glowing marble monuments in the lowering dark.

Home is now cast as a comfortable retreat after 5 days absence rather than the pedestrian and rather unkempt roof-over-ones head it was when I left. The idea of home is such a central concept to our ideas of life, its rhythms, and relaxation. I think of this when I remember the distinct moment when I no longer thought of my parent's house as home - the transition sometime after college, a month after signing a lease and moving into my own house with friends - and how incredibly radical that felt. I also think of this when I see how S's girls struggle at times with having two homes - Dad's and Mom's - but designating one as "home" so freighted with untenable favoritism and preference that it becomes as hard to articulate as it does to sometimes manage. But not having one "home" is a significant adjustment, and not just with regards to the movement of material things like soccer cleats and tshirts and favorite toys.

All of this makes me appreciate my own small apartment and renews my sense of delight in coming home to it.

May 27, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink

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