Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you only have the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
My current reading is Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. It’s a fantastic book about long-term world travel, more about shedding your possessions and really experiencing the world than just how to do it cheaply. It’s been ages since I wanted to sightsee, and years ago I spent a month in England with the predefined purposing of getting a taste of my friends’ lives. I told them I wasn’t interested in sightseeing (I’d seen everything in London years before), and they took it in stride. The only thing I couldn’t do was go to work with them – otherwise I went with them to their theatre rehearsals, long walks in the countryside and repeated evenings in the same local pub.
My most treasured memories of that trip was staying in Scunthorpe, a town about an hour and a half from the Scottish border. It’s not a place where tourists go. There’s nothing to see, in terms of traditional sightseeing. But it was a wonderful time because of my friend, Tom Foley (we’ve lost touch and I hope he Googles his name sometime) and his family. They were Irish, and the most warm and welcoming family I’ve ever experienced outside my own. Tom worked part-time and I’d tag along with his Mum to the store or read.
One day she took me visit her mother, who was Algerian and resolutely anti-feminist. She insisted that men and women were different, that men could do things women could not and there was no convincing her otherwise. She was a child during World War II and her story of going to a German school and life at the time was fascinating. We also spent almost every evening at the same pub, The Honest Lawyer, where I became a bit of a regular had plenty of discussions on politics and music with everyone. I have one regret about the experience: I was offered a bartending job there and I did not even take a moment to consider it. I wanted a high-paying corporate job that would lead to an eventual transfer to Europe. Silly me.
I’ve always been curious about the world – my favorite subject in school was Social Studies, when it was about people and cultures, before it turned into a series of boring memorizations and tests called History. I’m not terribly curious about the US – there’s too much familiarity around the corners. But I am absolutely curious about being in a strange land where I don’t speak the language. And in Vagabonding, I found the quote by Bill Bryson (from Neither Here nor There) that summed it up perfectly.