Monday, February 22, 2010

Towards an explanation

I think I have said this about two godjillion times before, but how strange is it that two people who have such a hard time traveling together are so hungry to have their family continue to move around the planet?

I note on the front page of this blog that we are here in France for reasons I have yet to fully explain. But one emerging reason is that I would like finally to solve the following puzzle in the remaining months of our time away, together:

What, exactly, kept us from just staying still, nicely and quietly, on First Street? And, since we’re now far away, why do we keep falling into homesickness, craving the familiar? Why did we come all this way simply to long for what we left behind?

Some weird and powerful force that I still cannot name keeps driving us towards parts of the world we don't know. At the same time another force pulls us back, like gravity, to the familiar. These equal and opposite forces each seem to promise enlightenment, as though we could find the meaning of life in sameness or difference. Instead, our little family finds itself -- again and again -- simply in motion between the two.

So why – just at the moment we can hardly take another day without a bagel and some mac and cheese – do we elect to take off on a week-long exploration of four unfamiliar cities in five different countries, where the signs are all posted in foreign languages we don’t speak at all?

Well, for one reason, we’re doing it all together. And also, we’re learning things, now and again. But also, as often as not, we’re discombobulated. Confused, mistaken, ill-at-ease. Or even freaking right the heck out, as we try to establish some sort of equilibrium from which to proceed -- either forward and out or back and in.

You would think that Bill would always be the driving force for traveling and chaos, and I would always be the homebody gravity. But strangely enough, we find ourselves switching roles all the time. Sometimes I’m the one arguing for some new expansion of the boundaries, and he’s miserable and moody, wanting nothing more than to go back home. But we are rarely both fully on the same page at the same time, which can lead to the instability and conflict that makes this blog occasionally mortifying, occasionally funny, and sometimes both at the same time.

I should be more ashamed of this awful quality in our family: this tendency to fall apart when we're traveling. It's hardly the sort of thing one should announce to whomever happens to be listening, on a travel blog for god’s sake, but then again, the only people likely to be reading this blog are our friends and family (who know us, too well, already) and utter strangers (who could not possibly care, and might just find all of this entertaining.) Any enemies and haters I have rightfully earned in the course of my forty years might happen onto this page and get to revel in this horrible weakness of mine, but I am sure that the rest of you will just chalk this up to human frailty.

So back to my central question: why are we – such unlikely and ungainly travelers – doing what we’re doing?

Sometimes I see this year as an elaborate attempt to understand my own family before the kids are grown up and off on their own. In this narrative, our being away, and facing the challenges of loneliness and confusion is an elaborate plot to bring us closer together.

Other times we glorify this year away with the lofty title of “Sabbatical,” and I’m sure that’s how I’ll explain it on my resume for years to come. In this narrative of the trip, we’re here to Learn Something about the world. French, I suppose – although we’ve been shamefully ineffectual at getting to know actual French people. But during our week traveling through several countries we know very little about, we almost could not help but to learn and to grow.

But often enough, the year appears more like an endless loop of National Lampoon’s European Family Vacation: four silly people doing pointless and ill-fated things while moving along an inexplicable itinerary.

For example, over the course of the last two weeks, we found ourselves driving the wrong way on a cobblestone pedestrian-only street, then lost in a subdivision in Lichtenstein. We circled a construction zone in Geneva no less than five times, confused by whether the streets were one way or two, looking unsuccessfully for our hotel and shouting directions and recriminations at one another. We learned that “exit” in German is “Ausfahrt,” a word that brought us no end of adolescent-level laughs. We suffered through the usual slapstick comedy as we four spazzy people all tried to carry our skiis and poles the wrong way through narrow doors.

We’ve even unwittingly aided and abetted visiting friends into to crashing the funeral of one of the most important matriarchs in this small town. We are now probably known as "Those Stupid Americans Who Sent Their Friends to Madame ______'s Funeral."

So on out trip, we have had Family Togetherness by the bucketful: often more than we can handle with equanimity. We have had Cultural Exploration, by way of stumbling into situations, then piecing together the meanings later on. But always lurking there in the side of the frame -- is some Foolish Slapstick humor.

You may note that our tendency towards the ridiculous generally emerges right at the moment that our travels might be threatening to get fancy or impressive. It is not an accident that we were at our most ridiculous in St. Tropez.

Being the classic over-writer I am, I can’t fit two weeks worth of deep emotional revelations, cultural revelations/oversimplifications and silly episodes into one blog, so over the next few days, maybe I can hit one or two of the few highlights of our recent adventures.

Should it please you, stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. I shall indeed stay tuned. I applaud your honesty in revealing the ways in which your family is so much like every other family: flawed and frayed and rife with conflict - but so unlike most other families in your determination to love and work through the kinks and foibles together. Sometimes thru sheer grit and determination, sometimes with medication and alcohol, most times with laughter and humor.

    Yes, dear Launa, I'll be here waiting for more tales of your international adventure.