For my bedtime reading, I've been perusing Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus. It was published in 1968 and smells it. But an essay entitled "Love of Life" is anything but musty. It begins in a crowded Spanish café where the author observes: "There is a certain freedom of enjoyment that defines true civilization. And the Spanish are among the few peoples in Europe who are civilized." There is Andalusian music. An overweight dancer. Foot-stamping. The author calmly sips his wine until he answers one of the questions I've been asked so many times I've lost count: Why do you like traveling so much? (or the other version, which parents are quite fond of: Why are you so restless?).
Just this past weekend at The Moon Over Naikoon bakery, a man named Gorden (lighthouse keeper on Langara Island for the past seventeen years) was curious about my travel habit. While grating mozzarella, I told him travel expands my mind. Afterwards, I realized lots of things expand my mind. Looking at the ocean every day. Reading. Meditating. Observing my cat. These are the kinds of things one can do anywhere.
But traveling is different.
I hope you won't mind if I quote a passage from "Love of Life" (and I hope the late Mr. Camus won't mind, either):
"[...] For what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. One can no longer cheat--hide behind the hours spent at the office or at the plant (those hours we protest so loudly, which protect us so well from the pain of being alone). I have always wanted to write novels in which my heroes would say: "What would I do without the office?" or again: "My wife has died, but fortunately I have all these orders to fill for tomorrow." Travel robs us of such refuge. Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props (one doesn't know the fare on the streetcars, or anything else), we are completely on the surface of ourselves. But also, soul-sick, we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing without a thought in her head, a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. The whole of life seems reflected in it, insofar as it summarizes our own life at the moment. When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable."
No, I don't have any plans to travel to a foreign land anytime soon. But after reading this passage, I wish I did. It's too easy to hide in the office or plant of our creation. An off-the-grid cabin in the woods (especially on a winter's eve with a blazing fire and a sleeping cat) is a wonderful refuge. But I admit--Mom, Dad, Gorden the lighthouse keeper--I am restless. Restless to live on the surface of myself, restless for indescribable intoxications. Must one travel to satisfy this need? (the wherever-you-go-there-you-are people will inevitably ask) Maybe not. But a foot-stamping Spanish café sounds like a lot more fun, doesn't it? Thank you, Mr. Camus, for reminding me of this.
And thank you for reading.