“It sounds so far away and different. I like different places. I like any places that isn't here.”
-Edna Ferber, Gigolo
Feeling wanderlust is like smoking cigarettes in the dark. Silky black surrounds an orange glow. Pupils dilate to adapt. A deep drag pulls the orange into itself until it burns too brightly even for fire. And all you can see is that fire. You’re fixated on it because it’s the only light. Exhaled smoke billows up toward the sky, eventually disappearing, making you wonder why you can’t follow it to that mysterious place.
But it’s a quick fix. Your problems remain in the afterglow. It’s bad for you.
Or maybe it feels more like swallowing a burning cigarette, a spark in the belly that floats up to the head until it swirls in a frenzied storm of determination.
Of course, I don’t smoke, so what do I know?
Maybe just that wherever I am, I always want to be somewhere else.
It all started on a family road trip to Canada. I’d had two years of high school French under my belt, and I was excited about showing off what I thought was an extensive vocabulary. The first time we were greeted by an octagonal red sign that read “Arrêt” I exclaimed, “That means stop!” When we needed to fill up the tank, I directed my father toward a sign that read “L’Essence,” not caring one iota that the gas pumps could have possibly given it away.
Momentous as these occasions were, the pinnacle of my linguistic prowess came when we were in our hotel room studying the map, unsure of where we were. When the maid knocked on the door to clean the room, I greeted her and asked if she could help us. As I pointed to the map, I blurted out, “Où sommes-nous?” and she proceeded to explain where the heck we were.
In that moment I felt like I was home. I felt that I could be thousands of miles from the southwest side of Chicago and still be comfortable wherever I was.
|Cane Bay, St. Croix, USVI|
That comfort was born of the fact that language came to life for me that day. My rudimentary language skills had taught me the secret handshake, granting me admission to a whole new world, and suddenly I felt worldly. From that point on, I knew that I wanted to explore any and every place so that I could know the scent of fresh baguette wafting out of a Parisian boulangerie. I wanted to know the sound of my heels against Stratford-upon-Avon’s cobblestone streets. I wanted to know the exact descriptors for the Caribbean Sea’s blue water.
So I’ve done some traveling. Not a lot, but some. England, France, a few islands in the Caribbean. Most people would deem world travel a boon, but someone close to me recently joked that I am always planning my next “escape,” which, to me, insinuates a discontent in the “now.”
Hmm, perhaps. Not everyone has found that dream job or He-Man husband who builds bridges while planning the evening’s dinner menu; we all have dreams still left to dream.
For me, though, my lust for travel has less to do with personal discontent. I really just always want to be somewhere else because I have an insatiable curiosity about the unknown.
|Frederiksted, St. Croix, USVI|
And why is that something to be ashamed of? Why be ashamed of the fact that wanderlust taught me that the smells from a boulangerie will linger in your nose for days? Why be ashamed that I learned firsthand that Shakespeare’s birthplace is the most captivating tourist trap on the planet or that crumbling Dutch colonial architecture holds as much beauty as any French château. Thanks to my inability to sit still, I know that the color of the Caribbean Sea is layered like my mother’s jello mold, the blue growing ever deeper as you gaze into the distance.
So, yeah, if the desire to wander is indeed like smoking a cigarette in the dark, I’m definitely going to inhale.