relaxing on a bench

The null of travel

September 9, 2021

   This past week marks the third anniversary of Carol and my first trip to Europe together, and Facebook is flooding our feeds with photographic memories. I’m happy to see them, because they are in sharp contrast to the memories my mind carries around with me. It’s clear from the photos that we’ve seen a lot of sights in the short time we’ve been together. My internal memories are of far more static experiences.

   Like the time I found an empty bench at the Musée d’Orsay. It was perfectly positioned between the magnificent…oh, who am I kidding. I have no idea what was hanging on the wall in front of me. I was just happy to sit there, until the tranquil peace was disturbed by someone who was mesmerized by whoever it was on the wall, and plopped down next to me. I got up before risking the possibility of a breathless commentary on the use of color and space.

   I hold a vivid memory of a sausage pizza in a restaurant in the Mercato Centrale in Florence that I ordered all three times I’ve eaten there. Then there’s the memory of one of my favorite train trips, a six-hour ride from Paris to Barcelona, where I don’t remember moving even once and arrived feeling refreshed. And there’s all those cafes we’ve sat in for hours on end. I don’t need any photos to remind me how pleasant each and every one of those afternoons and evenings were.

I hold a vivid memory of a sausage pizza in a restaurant in the Mercato Centrale in Florence that I ordered all three times I’ve eaten there.

   You might say, “Well, why don’t you just sit on your couch at home and read a travel book?” The short answer is, “I do that too.” But the difference is the going. I enjoy doing nothing, but I enjoy doing nothing in different places. If I’d’ve sat in that one Bordeaux cafe every day for a week, I would have been bored to tears. But give me that same sit in Paris, Bordeaux, Arles, Avignon, Nice, Lyons and Strasbourg in that same week, and I’d feel like I had a real adventure.

   You’ll never come back from a vacation with me feeling exhausted and drained. In fact, you’re likely to be so full of energy, you’ll want to do a wash and get right back out there again. What if you can do nothing, but feel like it’s really something? ( Yeah? Well, who cares what anybody else thinks?) I can’t tell you what painting I was staring at that day in the Musée d’Orsay, but I can confirm how relieving and comfortable it was finding that bench. Isn’t the value of memory in the pleasure it provides? Why travel if your lasting memory is how tired out you were at the end of each day?

   Finally, there’s this whole idea of planning. When we went to Iceland, not a single day was planned out ahead of time. We’d arrive each evening at a new campground feeling as though we’d had a full day. We never felt we missed anything (well, the puffins maybe, but they simply weren’t in their roosts the day we were there). But there are people who are posting their itineraries planned out to the hour, if not the minute. What happens when weather, a flat tire or getting lost upends those plans. Do you wind up feeling you lost out or were cheated?

   I know one thing. I will never feel I lost out or were cheated when traveling. And Carol? I can tell you, she’s been recalibrating ever since I proposed to her.

Photo Credit: Carol Madigan

Catch up with first trip to Europe together here.

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