Not Now, Voyager

“There is no frigate like a book.” Emily Dickinson

Many of my friends now are packing up and traveling hither and yon in all directions near and far. Some do this almost every other month, to Africa, Hawaii, Europe and just down the I5 to Ashland. I ask, How can they do this, how can they manage to head off once again, so soon after returning from their previous jaunt?

While I had my days of traveling, it was never quite like this and now I am growing weary of the entire enterprise. I have come to feel much like Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who writes in her “anti-travel” polemic, Not Now, Voyager:

…how much easier it is to let the mind, rather than the body, do the traveling. No tickets or schedules, no borders, no passports. Thought is the one thing that remains free no matter what changes outside the head.”

Schwartz wonders if people really enjoy traveling as much as they claim. And like her, I ask, “What do they truly learn in the new territory?”

Yet, in spite of all the anti-travel remarks in the first chapter of her book, Schwartz spends the remaining eight chapters describing various trips she took to far off lands, while at the end of each account, professing how happy she is to be finally back home. So much for consistency between words and actions.

For me travel was always a search for a place where I finally felt at home. When I was foolishly young, I thought it was Paris and then, when I was a little less young, but equally foolish, I realized it was Florence. I knew I could live there quite contentedly, but in the end, it too was not much more than a dream. They do have their winters in Tuscany after all and my life-long companion did not find the idea the least bit appealing.

Going off here and there, traveling from place to place for a week or so is not how I search for home. And so I return to Florence as often as I can and stay for a month or so each summer, wandering about the city, exploring as much of it as I can, only to fly back to the place I’ve never “connected” with and want only to leave the moment I get off the plane.

I do now feel that learning about a country, a place, the peoples and their culture can be readily conveyed in books and films. Since these experiences can be repeated and lingered over in the comfort of your armchair, whatever learning is sought may, in fact, be equally, if not more, easily acquired.

Jhumpa Lahiri wrote, “For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.”

There is also no doubt it is carried out at less cost, less hassle, and none of the burdens of arranging tickets, accommodations and “all the rest of it.”