Monday, October 15, 2012


miniature replicas of gamla stan (old town) architecture in stockholm, sweden

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.  —Henry Miller

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.  —Mark Twain

maybe the deep down anticipation and thrill of travel—enthusiastically packing that scarred old suitcase over and over again—is hereditary. my parents liked to travel, i like to travel, and it seems my kids like to travel, too.

i have been fortunate in my life thus far, if you count as good fortune the freedom to cross oceans in search of something different, something revelatory. from the time i was quite young i have had opportunities to see—and one time to live in—foreign lands. i will always be grateful for that.

wouldn't it be great if more people had the chance, and the ability, to venture beyond their backyards (in my dream of dreams, i envision something beyond couch surfing where everyone, not just students, would be required to swap countries with someone else for a short time and become a kind of life exchange student), to see farther than their own every day worlds. what if eyes could be opened early enough in life to gain a sharper perspective on the immensity of the earth—and yet the incredible interconnectedness and common ground we share with others—for it to make a difference (i'm thinking of the twain quote), a difference in how people view themselves in relation to other human beings in the world. we, in our villages, towns, and cities, are so small compared to what is out there in regions unseen, unknown, unimagined.

when people visit a place they usually like to pick up a memento or two, for themselves or someone else, as a reminder of time spent away from home. i am no exception.

ten or twenty or thirty years later i revisit mementos—both gifts from others and gifts to myself—that make up a life.

i go through the accumulations, the collections, the remembrances of times past, some of it useful and displayed (small framed pictures and drawings, wooden carvings, a teapot, a doll, brightly painted wooden horses, bits of pottery, an antique chinese jewelry box), some of it forgotten in corners of cabinets and closets (a necklace and bracelets made of beads, seeds and nut-like things and a huge colorfully woven "kenya" bag that my parents brought home from—where else—kenya; two strands of cloisonne beads and little cloisonne jars from china; black lacquer boxes, small fabric change purses and two kimonos from japan; a child's purse with reindeer fur from finland; booklets, brochures, ticket stubs.) if i was ever planning to paste the papers in a scrap book it never happened, and i guess it never will.

a realization: i hold on to things which are broken and/or useless. one time in stockholm we got caught in what we thought would be a quick downpour (it ended up lasting the rest of the afternoon). when we realized the weather would show no mercy, we ducked into a shop in gamla stan and bought a large umbrella—a lovely striped gray and turquoise affair with a curved wooden handle and tip. we also ended up with twelve whimsical little gamla stan buildings. (in those days i toted larger suitcases and could easily pack the umbrella away for the flight home. today i travel much lighter—that umbrella would never fit in my carry-on l. l. bean suitcase.) twenty-five years later the umbrella has a hole in it, though the buildings survive. and all those brochures....why do i keep things which have outlived their useful life?

since my suitcase is smaller these days, i don't accumulate many trinkets for myself, or others, anymore. i mostly return home with dirty, rumpled clothes and not much else.

yet even for someone who doesn't mind living out of a suitcase, eventually the time comes to wind up back in the place where it all started. there is no doubt about it: the best part of a journey is coming home, followed by crawling into one's own beloved bed. the real comfort of home lies in small, oft-repeated, unconscious acts: fluffing up the goose feathers in a familiar smelling pillow until the pillow seems—thank you, goldilocks—just right, and gently lifting off into dreams of faraway while remaining quite stationary and ensconced under a cozy comforter.


Leonora said...

Daughter 2 was poking around my house taking photos this weekend. She commented on all the little decorative touches here and there. I told her that's what happens when we accumulate a lifetime's worth of mementos. I can go around, touch each item and tell a story from it: the pottery from Charleston, the candle box from our old basement in Maine, the cookie cutter from Vermont, etc. Sometimes I will simply bring a rock or stone home with me and put it in the garden.(Husband thinks I'm nuts.)

BavarianSojourn said...

I love the little Gamla Stan! :) I am "homesick" for Scandinavia at the moment, I may have to go back to say hello again soon. You are so right though, getting home is always the best part! :D

Monica Devine said...

Agreed...traveling affords perspective, a new way of seeing things. I've always had the travel bug & appreciate how it enriches my world...great post!

Jayne said...

I like the idea of a life exchange student. We all should all put that in motion!

Loved this post, M, now I don't feel like such a fool for saving all those brochures! Isn't it funny--if we were to ever return to the brochures they wouldn't be of much help as they're updated so often!

I keep a lot of trinkets from travel, too, and always come home with something for the kids. But last weekend my husband and I went to Philly and we returned w/out one gift for Max and Lu. They didn't even ask about it either. I guess we're all getting older. (And wiser.) ;)