You should go home again

May 16, 2019

Sure, but what if you saw it every day on your way…

I believe most tourists to any place on the globe at one time or another, confront the same question: what would it be like to live here full time. A number of these tourists went on to do it and then write about it. I’ve read several of these well-written memoirs (Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence always comes to mind first). They’ve all taken me on amazing journeys, but have wound up at the same terminus for me: Don’t do it.

…to buy cheese for dinner…

I’ve traveled enough in the last several years to be keenly aware of one salient truth: living in a place is fundamentally different than traveling through it, so different that the one simply can’t be seen as an extension of the other.

…then schlog over to the wine shop…

When you’re a tourist, consulting maps, asking for directions and getting lost are so much a part of the daily routine that you hardly are aware the activity is repeating itself practically every day. It’s part of the charm, challenge and adventure of travel. Now imagine living in that same place where you know where everything is, because you had to in order to get through the day. You’ve created a routine for your new day-to-day life, just like the one you’ve left behind. Why did you do that, merely substituting one routine for another simply for the – what?- excitement of doing it in a foreign language? Then there are the simple things that are part of a daily routine, like shopping, that in a new country are done more compartmentally than what you were accustomed to either heading for a mall or a Costco. It was part of the charm to go to a bakery for a baguette, a cheese shop for camembert, a butcher shop for a chop and finish up at the wine store. But every day?

…and finally drive home on this two-way street?

Then there’s the bureaucracy for which Europe has turned the term “runaround” into a standard operating procedure. There’s a stultifying example of the runaround in John and Nancy Petralia’s Not in a Tuscan Villa that involves a withering revolving door of governmental offices, post offices and police stations, and all to simply get their residency permit validated. In Toujours Provence, Mayle describes a tortuous route to obtain a simple identity card that ends at long last with a visit to a doctor’s office to be tested for syphilis. The mind reels at the the thought of buying a car, obtaining a loan, insurance and license plates.

Besides my idea of a routine is sitting in a chair and either writing,  reading or staring. I think huge chunks of that routine would be reallocated to figuring out how to get a morning paper delivered. (I don’t know if they deliver morning papers in Europe. You probably have to stop at a kiosk on you way to the bakery for that evening’s dessert after stopping off at the municipal building to get an update on that dog license, during which time that adorable little puppy has reached adulthood.)

The main lesson I’ve learned about travel abroad versus living abroad is what we tell each other every time a trip has ended: “Man, it’s great to be back home!”


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