I spent decades living out of a suitcase.
At one point I put in eight months a year on the road… wandering Europe. Each forthnight meant meeting a new band. Each day meant a new flight/hotel/currency and language – and all the people and complications that went with it. Each night meant a new restaurant, bar or concert venue. Sometimes I would wake and reach for the hotel info booklet to figure out where I was. Othertimes I’d know by the way the air smelled: Amsterdam (damp), Hamburg (salty), Rome (humid). And then there were days that would announce their location in the heaviness of my heart or shortness of my breath as I woke: and I would know we were in a city the band didn’t like or where the local company didn’t believe in them …and that it was going to be uphill all day.
But I loved it.
I had the best job in the world – one to which I was perfectly suited. As a child we had moved every 18-months or so. And eight schools in 12 years had taught me how to brazen it out as the new kid. Which was lucky as I was often the only person that the band and the record company had in common. But, hours spent reading magazines and newspapers on airplanes gave me plenty to get people talking. I had an expense account, friends in every port and I met fascinating people. I loved hotel rooms, room service menus and hotel bars. And I had the constitution of an ox … late nights and early mornings presented no real challenge.
Plus I got paid handsomly to do it.
As I travelled; my friends met loves, got married, had kids, got divorced, moved on. I missed out on birthday parties, hen nights and baby showers. To my eternal regret – I didn’t make time in my schedule to support a friend who eventually died of cancer. I lost old friends; who felt left behind by the strangeness of my new life. But the people I was working with, the things I was seeing and learning, and the ridiculous amount of fun I was having, made up for the lack of privacy and a personal life. The ‘wow’ compensated for the 24-hour availability required of me. And the stress that generated.
Each year I would go somewhere far and exotic for my holiday to decompress. In the eighties and nineties, camparigirl and I explored the world in cheap and cheerful class – roving from Cyprus to Israel, from Mexico to Guatamala and the Galapagos Islands. We were great travel companions – and when she moved to LA, I was entirely unsuccessful in replacing her. So I started travelling on my own. Flashpacking my way through the East, Caribbean, Asia, Australia and some of Africa. Those trips were some of my favourites ever – I learned as much about myself as about where I was.
I got what Patrick Rothfuss meant when he wrote:“If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection”. My traveling definitely threw the best and worst of me into relief. I was confronted by my strengths and weaknesses in bald, uncompromising light. But always with clarity. This still proved true when I left my 18-year career behind in New York, and spent two months traversing Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam – trying to figure out what had happened and what do do next.
But not any more … now I want to stay home. I am sure this has everything to do with getting older. With the sense of vulnerability that goes with the realisation that life is indeed finite. That there is no time to waste in lay-overs. In fact, the first time I felt like this was my trip to Tanzania – the year I turned fifty. And the last time I felt this was over the weekend whilst I was in Joburg.
The truth is – I want to stay put. And, by put; I mean I want to be able to drive where I am going on holiday. I want to pack Jack (and any small creatures that wish to join us) in the back of my car and head off somewhere simple and stay there for the duration. I want to create a routine and follow it. Be entirely familiar with what I am doing, when and where. I want a small house in a small village with one coffee shop and a quaint supermarket. I want to be recognised and be part of the landscape.
That’s the micro of the macro. I feel like this about my every day, too. I don’t want to have to try too hard, or go anywhere I don’t want to go. I am happy in my ‘old familiar’ – in a sense of belonging. I want to wear what I want to wear … usually yoga clothes all day. I go see movies I want to see. I listen to my old fave records – and don’t bother about new ones. I read books by authors I like. And I have the same cocktail every night.
I don’t want new – I want samey -samey. And sometime I am surprised by myself. I wonder: am I one step away from a bedazzled, hot pink, Betty White velour sweat-suit? Maybe – but would that even be so bad? I don’t think so … time has taught me well and I know now, what Mr. Sinatra always knew:
“It’s very nice to just wander
The camel route to Iraq
It’s oh so nice to just wander
But it’s so much nicer,
yes it’s oh so nice,
to wander back.”
(The quote by Patrick Rothfuss is from: The Wise Man’s Fear . “It’s so very nice to go trave’ling” was sung by Frank, but written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen.)