If I Die, Tell Them I Was A Local: A Lesson in Wandering

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Whenever I travel, I am not simply content to be a visitor. I am always overcome with the desire to know a city, to be accepted into its folds. I want its rhythms to reside in the rafters of my brain. I want to wear its most charming cafés like charms on my wrist. I want its streets ingrained into the soles of my shoes. I want to spew its slang, cry out its colloquialisms, and hold its humor near the neurons that trigger tears from breathless laughter. I want to it to feel as familiar as Friday night football in my hometown, as intuitive as the tap of my fingers against my laptop keyboard.

And yet, in every new place I find myself death-gripping a complimentary map and bumble-fucking my way through the native tongue. Travel exposes my vulnerabilities, my shortcomings, my lack of sophistication, and the feeble remains of my four semesters of Italian. Four years ago, when I went to Paris for the first time, I wore a magenta North Face and paraded around the Eiffel Tower, my cheeks stuffed with Nutella crepes, like a tasteless, unnecessary exclamation point. Needless to say, the air of that otherwise magical city was polluted by the sneers French women threw me.

The foreign world somehow manages to slip through the sieve of me; when I’m abroad I am somehow always the dumbest person in the room, on street corner, in the restaurant. But this humbling is what makes travel so essential to me and so integral to my endeavor to live a robust life. As a creative person, I need paradigm shift. I need to be shocked out of my everyday complacency and thrown into a corner of the universe that I don’t begin to comprehend, that I don’t begin to fit into.

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The naïve, egocentric side of my brain wants to possess of all these places, to turn them into taxidermy heads that I can hang proud upon my wall. I am in such a hurry to share my travels with everyone. How easy it is to post something and say “Oh look where I’ve been! Look how cultured I am! Aren’t I just the neatest damn thing on your Instagram feed today?” It is so easy to pass traveling off in beautiful photographs, in clever captions, in blog posts.

Where the true difficulty and true merit of travel lies is in it’s exposure of our inner self, of the girl who talks to much, doubts too much, wouldn’t know minimalism if Alexander Wang suffocated her with his American cool and who gets extremely grumpy if she’s not given breakfast and strong coffee immediately after waking up. Not traveling turns me cagey and restless. Traveling strips me of sureness and sears me in the fire of something new. It renders me raw. Part of its marvel (and the majority of its melancholy) is that travel not only exposes me but it changes me, too.

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I am continually struck by a place’s ability to haunt me; how I can wander De 9 Straatjes (the Nine Streets) of Amsterdam once and suddenly the capillaries of my heart become canals filled with bruise-navy water, houseboats in gentle slumber, the sunny purr of Dutch, the whiz of bicycle spokes churning the air. Or how Prague returns to me like a best-loved bedtime story, luring me once more into a land of castles, spires and swan-filled rivers, leading me down winding lanes bathed in the rose glow of early evening, where later, much later, the echoes of raucous boys leaving the discotheque will ricochet off the stucco and into my sleeping ears.

Which is whywanderlust is such a tricky word for me. “Lust” implies that it can be quenched, you see and I sincerely doubt that my need for travel is capable of being satisfied.I want a future full of meanderings, fashion faux-pas, inescapable hungers and continual renovations to my soul and my perspective. But above all, I want to keep learning, to keep exposing myself the truly novel, the wonders of human existence, with a voracity that refuses to wane.

 

 

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