I don’t generally take Facebook’s “Memories” bait; I am generally so caught up in the present that I have little time for the past.
Despite my passion for history, I’m not nostalgic. In my experience, things get better; the past is for perspective, not longing.
But this morning’s “Memories” caught a particular moment, this day five years ago, when I was living in a tiny hamlet in the hills above Florence called Ontignano, with a small family of four in a beautiful compound from whence I walked every day over the hills into town.
I was there for two months, and during that time met several people who are friends to this day: Cristina, Vanessa, Sri and, of course, my dear friend Berna, who I have since visited twice in Istanbul, and have shared some amazing times with in that remarkable city.
It was the start of five years of travel that has taken me from Florence to Puglia (the heel) of Italy, to Berlin, to Munich, into Switzerland and, last year, walking 450 miles in Spain. I have spent much of the rest of my time in Japan, with extended trips to Vietnam, South Korea, Laos and Cambodia. And of course, I return often to New York and Sacramento.
But I look back at that list and think two things: 1) There are a hell of a lot of countries I haven’t gotten to yet, time’s a-wasting, and 2) I have no idea when I’ll get back out there. I am not the most adventurous traveler, and over these years I have tended to return to places where I know people, for a simple reason: I love people even more than travel, and travel can be lonely, or at least, a touch superficial. I tend to migrate rather than vagabond, and my migratory route has taken me back, again and again, to people and places I love: New York, Berlin, Bologna, Istanbul, Kyoto…and Sacramento.
But I don’t miss travel right now; I miss my friends, my loves, my distributed home, sure, but I don’t miss the thrill of new places so much. In part, it’s a time to go to ground, to hunker down, to be smart. But also because I’m so engaged right now, so excited by all the work I’m doing, so challenged physically to stay active, so connected to so many people through all this media – not to mention concerned about the health of all those people – that I’m not feeling the need to be anywhere else.
Not moving frees up a lot of time.
I discovered long ago that as much fun and exciting and as interesting as travel is, being creative and connected and curious and active can make being anywhere – even your old hometown – a pretty dazzling and inspiring experience. People without the wandering gene know this. It’s taken me a lifetime to figure it out.
That said, I look forward to taking off! My plan this spring was to leave for New York on Tuesday, but that’s not going to happen; then I was going to fly to Barcelona to see some friends and then do El Camino de Santiago again, but Spain can’t take me now; then I was going to fly to Bologna to see two of my treasured friends, but they can’t leave the apartment – and people are dying all around them.
So I’m indulging my memories of Italia, five years ago today, when I rediscovered Europe, rediscovered extended travel after 30 years of a settled life I chafed at, and found myself at home in the world again. It has been an amazing five years, and I will return to my loved ones and favorite places as soon as I can, having accomplished many of the things I was too busy traveling to finish.
But for now, fate has colluded with my desire to get some big things done, things it would have been impossible to do on the road, so I am going with it. The things I am doing – like this blog – are already connecting me with my people all over the world, even people who I don’t really know yet, or who don’t know me. In some ways, in a deeper way than if we were able just to hang out.
Fate has connected me with good work, and good people, and a good living situation; so I will take fate’s lead and stay put for the time being. I’m not longing for the open road, but preparing for a return to it that will be richer and more meaningful than before, my heart full of a new appreciation for that moment when I finally set foot on it again.