Monday, December 28, 2009

Travel Envy

I have a friend who is heading off to India for a month and she's invited me to come over and help her pack. "You're an expert packer," she says. Briefly I ponder hiding liquids and sharp objects in her luggage. I've just bought my daughter a ticket to Egypt - graduation present. And my friend who lives in Tokyo says he's spending January in Thailand.

I know that envy is one of the seven deadly sins so I've tried to keep it in check. Freud would be proud of me, but, when it comes to journeys, I have to admit it - I have travel envy. I'm never really happy for the friend who got that great assignment to Istanbul or is spending her sabbatical in France. For my last sabbatical I broke my leg and spent it on my sofa as my daughter wandered through Fez, where I was to join her.

I try to hide it, but when R takes off each Christmas for Vieques or V rents that place in Key West, I want them to slip me into their suitcase. I want to go along too. I don't want to read the blog from the Loire Valley or the magnificent photos of spice markets Kate sent home. I want to leave now. But of course I can't. Not this moment anyway. I still have about fifteen portfolios to read and evaluations to write. I am deluged with assorted requests. I feel as if it's winter in Fargo and I have to keep digging myself out.

Meanwhile our neighbors across the street, who've been living for the past year in an old olive press in the South of France have returned. They share with me that unfortunately they had to move from one end of the olive press into a place on the other end. I am trying to find the unfortunate part in this as I nod my head in faux sympathy.

People can tell me about their film deals, the third child that's on the way, the fact that they just dropped twenty pounds, I am genuinely happy for these people. I think good for them. But just tell me that you are heading off on a bicycle through Sicily and I start to fall apart. Once I could just pack a duffel and walk out the door.

The other day my cousin told me this joke. A priest, a minister and a rabbi were discussing when life begins. The priest said at conception. The minister when the child is born. And the rabbi said when the dog dies and the kids leave home. Sadly our beloved dog, Snowball, has recently died and our daughter has sort of left home, though she occupies a studio apartment in our house. So I am thinking it is time to just pack up and go.

I was thinking that thought about two weeks ago. I felt as if I couldn't sit still. I found myself, staring at random maps. Going back to Dr. Freud, there is something about adolescent turmoil (which it seems I can't grow out of) and the desire to escape. The adolescent, struck with a barage of emotions, cannot contain himself/herself. I too feel stuck, my own emotions bounding. So I woke up one day last week and turned to my husband. "I want to go somewhere," I said. In fact I told him I had to go somewhere.

"Where?" and then I said, "Istanbul."

It seemed like a good place to test my travel legs again, crossing back and forth between Europe and Asia. So I booked passage. I'm going to cruise the Bosphorus, perhaps journey up to the Black Sea. This is a part of the world my ancestors came from.

My legs are restless. I know it's a syndrome, but in my case it's a compulsion. I don't want to go packing for my friends and imagine my daughter, negotiating the medinah in Fez. Travel envy, like real estate envy or money envy or even penis envy, is just one form of misery we have available to us in this world. But at least with travel envy (certainly unlike penis envy) I can actually plan and pack my bag and walk out the door.

More than just wanting to do this. I have to do it. As with writing, travel is both a pleasure and a compulsion. I am echoing here the 94 year old artist, Carmen Herrara, whose work has just now received recognition. I like this idea of something being both pleasure and inner necessity.

Yesterday at a memorial service for a beloved teacher someone read these words from a Hebrew prayer: "Birth is a beginning. Death a destination. And life is the journey in between." Time, I suppose, is awasting. And so I must be on the road.


  1. I wanted to wish you Bon Voyage. I have just finished reading your Wall to Wall and enjoyed it very much.

  2. Thank you! My next voyage isn't for another few months or so...but I'm dreaming. So glad you liked Wall to Wall! mm