“He who travels to get away from himself carries ruins to ruins.” Emerson
Okay, I’ll admit it: I am inveterate traveler who needs to travel, needs a regular change of venue, needs to get away, from myself, from my worries, from the ordinariness of my daily routine. Going away rejuvenates me as nothing else can, and that has been true for most of my adult life. At times of extreme stress, major meltdowns, and extended worry, a trip — not even an especially big trip — does wonders to restore my emotional equilibrium and adjust my perspective on my own small corner of the world. So yes, if you want to say that when I am in ruins, I travel to get away from myself … okay.
I think the reason travel has such a therapeutic effect on me is because of the uncertainty of it all, especially these days. Traveling demands that I pay attention and be fully present in the moment. The expectation of what might happen and what I might encounter is central to the adventure of any trip, of course, but it is also incredibly freeing in a personal way, particularly for someone like me who always feels responsible and in charge. But, once on that plane, that train, that ship, or in that car, I leave all the worry about plans, preparations, and arrangements behind because there is simply nothing else to be done. I am forced forward into the present and must deal with whatever occurs. “If something happens, don’t call me,” I always say when I leave. Prior arrangements will prevail.
Curiously, I have always dealt better with the urgency of the unexpected than with the monotony of sameness. That’s probably because I don’t really pay attention to most of the “stuff” in my everyday life. While many people find the stress and uncertainties of travel — overbooked flights, lost luggage, weather delays, long lines, social unrest, terrorists alerts, accidents, pickpockets — I find that I am actually calmer and more collected when faced with such challenges. I often surprise myself with my own resilience and ingenuity in these situations. I have been through a lot at this point, from missed flights and nights stranded in dangerous places, to major accidents and medical emergencies in remote locations, to the theft of my bag with everything in it (passport, license, credit cards, money) right before I was supposed to come home. But all these experiences, as harrowing as some were at the time, have helped me develop a fundamental knowledge of how the world works, almost everywhere, regardless of culture, country, or continent; that knowledge, in turn, has made me a more confident and appreciative traveler.
We just returned from ten days in the Mediterranean, mostly to places we have been before and that we love. Even when you return to familiar places, especially years later, you can find fresh insights and experiences. We went back to both Florence and Rome, for example, and I was surprised at how crowded and commercial both cities are now from what I remember years ago. The Colosseum and the Roman Forum are still impressive, of course, and I still loved the shopping in Florence and bought a beautiful cameo there. But I did not love the long lines to enter the museums and the crushing crowds in the Palacio del Vecchio that made admiring “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (my favorite sculpture there) almost impossible. Florence was once a contemplative city, but it isn’t anymore, at least not in September when tourist season for travelers from Europe and Asia apparently hasn’t ended.
In contrast, St. Tropez is still St. Tropez, with that French joie de vive, with the beautiful shops and the small restaurants and the lingering ghosts of Scott Fitzgerald stories. I even remembered the streets and found my way back to the once famous Hotel De Ville (now used as a city hall). The Côte d’Azur is a glamorous enclave, out of another time perhaps, but today attracting a new generation of romance seekers and a new incarnation of the so-called “rich and famous.” Yachts in the basin are, in fact, bigger and showier than ever!
Further along the Mediterranean Coast into Spain, we stopped in Málaga, the boyhood home of Picasso and the location of a museum containing about 200 of his works. (The much larger, more comprehensive Picasso Museum with over 4,200 works is in Barcelona, where the entire collection is arranged chronologically room by room, beginning with his earliest paintings from his teenage years.) Though we love Spain and have spent time in other parts of the country, we had not been to Málaga before, and it did not disappoint. Nor did the beautiful seaside resort town of Alicante, with its wide boulevards and plain air cafes. And did I mention the lovely wines and cheeses and tapas in all these fine Italian, French and Spanish establishments?
Needless to say, “my ruins” have returned home refreshed and refurbished — and five pounds heavier. We needed this trip, because it has been a long, tough year. And I needed this type of trip, one that was a little easier and a little less demanding than our more exotic adventures tend to be. Sometimes more familiar destinations are comforting. Even so, the uncertainty of what you might encounter is central to the adventure of travel, if you are open to it.
Otherwise, you might as well stay at home.