Landschlacht, Switzerland, Ides of March 2017
These are interesting times we live in, where nothing seems as certain as it once was.
Uncertainty as to whether foreign governments can determine other national elections…
Increased irrationality and xenophobia and hate crimes against folks whose only offence is the appearance of being different…
Wars that never end, from the ancient conflict between the Koreas that was resolved by uneasy ceasefire but without a peace treaty, to Afghanistan whose location and lithium cause empires to clash, to Syria so divided and torn apart causing untold millions to become adrift in modern diaspora, Africa where bloodshed is constant but media attention is scarce…
The most public nation on Earth run by an administration whose only real goal seems to be the total erasure of any achievements the previous administration might have accomplished…
Brazil: where governments change and prison conditions worsen…
Turkey: a land of wonderful people ruled over by a government that seems desperate for the world to view the country in the completely opposite way…
Israel: fighting for its rights of self-determination while denying the same rights of those caught within its reach…
India: a land of unlimited potential yet prisoner of past values incompatible with the democracy it would like to be…
A world where profit is more important than people, short-term gain more valuable than long-term consequence…
And it is these interesting times that find me re-evaluating the behaviour of the routine traveller and why this type of person may be more deserving of respect than is often shown him…
A routine traveller is that kind of person who, regardless of a world that has so much to offer visitors, will not visit any other location than the one to which he returns to, again and again, year after year.
This kind of routine traveller tends to be found amongst the older population.
My biological father will drive down from Canada to Florida once a year, following the exact same route, stay at the same motels and eat at the same restaurants he slept in and ate at before, return to the same trailer by the same beach and do the same things he did before, vacation after vacation, year after year.
An elderly lady student of mine travels from Switzerland to Spain once every seven weeks and lives in Barcelona for a week, remaining in her apartment except to visit familiar places and familiar faces.
And the only thing that would dissuade them from changing their routine would be circumstances beyond their control, like ill health or acts of God or government.
For much of my life I have mocked this kind of traveller.
I have wanted to explore the planet and visit faraway places with strange sounding names.
I have loved the sound of ship horns, train whistles, plane engines…
I have loved discovering new sights and smells, meeting new people with different perspectives, learning anew just how much I have yet to learn, every day a new discovery, every moment a new adventure.
And that inner child, with eyes wide open with excitement and wonder, never really disappeared from within me.
But as I age I feel I am beginning to understand the routine traveller more, for there is something comforting in the familiar.
My father and my student had made wiser financial investments than I ever had or ever will so they have managed to build themselves second homes in other locales outside their countries of regular residence.
My wife and I, limited like most by time and money, have not even considered the lifestyle of the routine travelling retiree just yet.
But I am beginning to see their point of view.
Last month the wife and I visited the Zürich Zoo and I found myself, to my own amused astonishment, expressing a desire to retire one day in walking distance of a zoo with an annual membership and spend my final days sitting on benches watching the animals obliviously engage in their natural routines.
I could see myself spending hours watching monkeys climb and swing, penguins march, peacocks strut, elephants calmly forage for food, owls stare back at me unblinkingly, bird song filling my ears, animal odors filling my nose, the solid concrete beneath my feet, the endless activity and colourful wonders of nature in myriad form.
I can imagine worse ways of spending my last days.
There must be something comforting about going away to a place oft-visited, to once again shop in familiar markets, to take familiar strolls that never require a map, to rediscover the pleasure of a favourite café, to browse again in a well-loved bookshop, to feel at home in a place that isn`t home.
Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh
I am a married man, for better or worse, so I am unable to simply abandon everything and hit the road as I once did.
I, like most, am bound by schedules and obligations and responsibilities and it is an adjustment, a rut, quite easy to mold oneself to, with its security and certainty in a world not so secure, not so certain.
Time is precious – as is health – and the unreligious know that we only get one life, so there should be more to life than spending one`s youth working for unappreciative others than finding oneself struggling painfully to maintain a sliver of dignity in a health care centre just waiting to die.
Yet if this be fate then few will avoid it.
As much as I long to see more of a world so vast and unexplored, I think what might attract me to a life of a routine traveller is the increasing realisation that change is inevitable so it is important to appreciate what we’ve got before it is gone, before it is no longer available.
My father at Jacksonville Beach, my student in Barcelona… are comforted by the false security of the familiar getaway.
No matter how much their lives have changed back in Canada or in Switzerland, the trailer by the beach abides, the apartment in Barcelona is waiting.
But I am not yet ready for a trailer by the sea or an apartment in another city, for what I want to do in the few precious leisure moments afforded me at present, though I am limited by money, I want to step outside as often as possible and explore and re-explore the outdoors within my reach.
While it still lasts…while I still can.
For the newspapers and the media suggest that things might not last.
America has convinced itself that running a pipeline next to a major supply of fresh water is somehow a good idea.
Around the globe, forests are denuded, holes scar the Earth in Man’s mad search for scarce resources, waste is dumped into rivers and oceans with no thought or compassion as to what dwells under the surface or the consequences these actions will have for generations to come.
We rattle our sabres, stockpile our nukes, cry out for war and blindly fight for invisible gods under ever-changing banners, staggering drunk down the road towards our destruction while applauding ourselves for our cleverness.
How long will the forest beyond the village of Landschlacht stand?
How long will seagulls and ducks swim in the clear waters of the Lake of Constance?
How long will the waves crash upon the shores of Jacksonville without dead fish and rotting carcasses polluting the sands?
How long will Barcelona’s streets be filled with music before the sound of marching militia boots tramp over the assumed tranquility?
How long will mothers fear the future for their newborns, teenagers feel the rage of a legacy cheated, the workman groan under the weight of his duties, the elderly too weary to care?
Too many questions…
I still want to explore the planet, but I no longer mock the man who embraces the familiar.
For the routine traveller may be lacking in courage or curiosity, but he is wise in his appreciation of the moment.
The routine traveller abides.
I take some comfort in that.
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot….
…They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em….
…Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT.
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees please….
…Late last night I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi come and take away my old man
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve gone ’till it’s gone…”
Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”, Ladies of the Canyon, 1970