A story, a spice, a map.
Each offers the way into another world, the promise of a journey.
When I was a child, I read stories about places I had never been. Later, as a teenager, I poured over maps and bought cookbooks to make food with ingredients I had to go to special stores to find. Now, the shapes of many of the countries I read about as a child as well as the taste of their food have become old friends. Yet I still reread the old stories, make the favorite dishes, and pour over the maps, repeating the names of cities I’ve lived in as well as the ones I haven’t gotten to yet.
The lure of travel remains all-powerful.
When you travel, you become intimate with the past. People are constantly dragging you to the site of this monument or that battle, into some great church or through the ruins of an abandoned castle. Some of these places leave you cold, others sweep you away. I can still remember the thrill of standing atop the remains of the earthen wall that Peter the Great had built on the Russian steppe to hold off the Tartars, or the clouds of swallows that swept past me through the windows of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
When you travel, you make connections, with people, with places, with ideas you’d never have encountered if you’d stayed at home. You also come up against people or traditions that you don’t like very much. It’s not all wonderful, but it’s real.
When you travel, you experience the ups and downs of life in a particular place, you join in the local rites and celebrations, but you also learn to live with the loneliness of being the outsider, the observer.
I’d like to think travel has made me a better person as well as a better writer. It has taught me the art of restraint as well as self-reflection, both how to be with people and how to be alone. It has taught me to observe a thing both up close and from a distance. It has shown me the marvelous in the small, seemingly uninteresting and insignificant details of everyday life. Above all, it has taught me to look at people and events in my own country as just as interesting and exotic as they are in any other. Nothing is boring. Everything is strange, nothing stranger than what is known.
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