There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
I remember it more like a surreal, misty dream than a real memory.
Seven years ago, I was living in the most beautiful city in the world – Istanbul.
I taught English there after graduating from university in Canada. For a 23 year-old Winnipegger who had never travelled before, the city was impossibly beautiful, like something out of my childhood imagination. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a forgotten fairy tale.
Discourse, the sweeter banquet of the mind.
– Homer, The Odyssey
One evening about a decade ago, back in undergrad, I was working on a paper due that day. This really meant I could slide it under the professor’s office door anytime before she arrived the following morning. When I was just about to finish it up, a couple of friends invited me out for drinks. I needed a short break, so I agreed, knowing I could finish the paper later that night. We got together, and did my favourite thing in the world – we talked. And talked and talked. I kept peeking at my watch, but the conversation was just too captivating to abandon. I eventually decided to hand the paper in late and accept a lower mark. I felt like I was learning a lot more from the conversation than from that class.
I remember when I left Russia, I told a friend proshai – farewell. She grew angry and implored me to instead say do svidaniya – until next time. Russians use this as goodbye, like the French say au revoir, or the Italians arrivederci. Proshai carried with it a cold tone of finality that my friend didn’t quite like, though it turned out to be sadly accurate.
Goodbye is an absurd word – nothing feels “good” about it at all. Well, actually Godbwye – “God be with ye,” is the mother of this devastating term. It seems fitting that such a calamitous event be allayed by God.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels.”
“Journeys are the midwives of thought.”
– Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
He wonders why he is here. Why did he flee from such comforts? Why forgo the hot, pressurized water, the ever-present super high-speed Internet, the machines that do the laundry and dishes for him, the voicemail, the ubiquitous coffee to go, the gargantuan stores that supply his every need, the clean, comfortable, safe lifestyle, and the obese GDP? Why go from the rich to the poor?
The Traveller’s story is a tragic one. He will never catch what he is chasing, never escape from what pursues him. Telling himself that home is everywhere, he fears it is nowhere. As though there are hot coals beneath his feet, he cannot stay in one place. Like the Flying Dutchman, he is doomed to sail the seas forever. His tortured soul is disillusioned, disappointed, distant. He chases a mirage. He is condemned to travel.