But a couple of questions hover: Why do we actually want to go “abroad” in the first place? Will the experience be different if we do?
I’ve been lucky to live abroad for long periods, having spent seven years in college in Scotland in the late ’60s and early ’70s. That whetted my appetite for living a kind of transatlantic life. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Italy, the country of my grandparents, and it’s been the rare year when I haven’t sat in a café in Rome or Naples, walked in the Scottish countryside, or dined with friends in London, which (for reasons of work) has become a kind of second home, as familiar to me as the state of Vermont, where I’ve spent most of my life. As I say, I’ve been lucky.
The reasons to travel are abundant and obvious enough: there is so much to learn, so much to see and do. But early on I realized that travel also affords a fresh perspective on home. You travel in order to go home again with open eyes.
During my first stint in Britain, I discovered (or at least came to believe) that the UK wasn’t a “throw-away” culture like the one I’d known in the states, where you bought new clothing for school every fall, and where clothes were actually designed — like so many products — to be tossed out rather quickly: fashion itself as a kind of designed obsolescence.
The Scots were by thrifty by reputation — deservedly so. They valued high-quality clothes and furniture that wouldn’t need to be quickly replaced. I’ve tended, ever since my time there, to prefer items of good quality, hanging onto them for dear life. To this day, I’m shocked by the wastefulness of Americans, who fill dumpsters with things that most of the world would be delighted to keep using for years to come.
I do wonder what it will feel like to go abroad again after such a long pause. Will I get the same old rush when I land in a far-flung airport? I know that I long to sit in a café in Europe, to smell the exotic smells, hear the accents, even the seeming cacophony of a foreign tongue. I want to watch the unfamiliar hand gestures and facial expressions.
Yet during the pandemic I’ve developed a keener sense of the pleasures of just staying home. “I have traveled a good deal in Concord,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden, and I can say the same now about Middlebury, Vermont. If you live deeply where you live, there is probably less need to venture abroad.
Having traveled deeply in Middlebury during the pandemic, I hope I’ve learned something I can take with my on my next adventure abroad. The skills of “deep travel” may come in handy.
In fact, my wife and I have been hoping for some time to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary on a Greek island, and this journey is approaching. Greece is apparently eager to welcome those who’ve been vaccinated, and their economy depends heavily on tourism. So we’ve rented a small house for two weeks in the coming summer on the island of Hydra, hoping to sit in a lazy café at the old harbor there, watching as the sun sets on the Aegean Sea with a glass of local wine in hand.
We plan to hike in the hills in the early mornings, before the sun becomes impossibly hot. And to read novels under the shade of a cypress tree in the afternoons as donkeys and mules go walking by (cars are forbidden on the island).
I’m curious to see how, in the wake of this terrible pandemic, our feelings about being abroad will have shifted. I really don’t know how we’ll react. For me, one thing is sure: it won’t be the same. But it might still be wonderful.
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