On the plane — January 11
We are almost home after a month’s absence. It’s been an incredible trip — upending my mind, raising my consciousness, lighting up the globe of my imagination so that places that were once just names to me are now pulsing with life. It’s been the kind of transformative trip that realigns the planets a little bit, challenges my certainties, and shifts my realities just enough to let me glimpse the world briefly through other peoples’ eyes.
It’s been a trip filled with antiquities whose ancient import still dictate events, where believing in a linear, progressive view of history doesn’t make nearly as much sense as a circularity of time layered upon time, where narratives, hopes, ambitions, and grievances are buried under each other like the ruins, covered by the force of earthquakes, waiting to be resurrected and restored.
If you’ve followed along with us you know that I’ve fulfilled a life-long ambition to go to Lebanon, returned to Israel, a place I fell in love with four years ago, spent some time in Jordan, and ended up in my favorite city, Paris.
There are still so many places in the Middle East I haven’t visited, some I may never see. In fact, probably will never see. I understand more than I did about this complicated and nuanced part of the world, and yet not nearly enough. It is strange and foreign, yet familiar in an odd beyond-memory way.
I think it is the food that keeps it from feeling foreign, and keeps me wanting to return. The food is the comfort food, the holiday food, the special occasion food of my childhood, and food can almost always help you find your way home, even if you have never been there before.
It’s the next morning now, early in the predawn jet lagged hours when you are as sharp as you’ll be all day but the world around you still sleeps. And now I am at my other, literal, home.
We arrived last night to a loud and frenzied welcome from three newly-washed and fluffy terriers, and a stand-offish “oh, were you gone?” glance from the cats.
It’s very good to be here. There is a pile of bills on the kitchen counter and a winter storm ramping up (I can hear the ice hitting the trees outside my window) and tons of work to do. But the house is warm, the bed is incredibly comfortable (or was until my husband spilled a diluted glass of bourbon on MY side last night) and I am nestled in like a bug. Cozy, in the way that cuddling up in a distillery might be.
And maybe the cats really did miss us because twice already this morning they’ve jumped on the bed to present me with a still wriggling mouse. Guess they really do play when the resident felines are absent. Maybe I should send advance notice of our return next time to warn them to hide.
I have been thinking, since I started to run out of energy a few days ago in France, about the impact of travel on our spirits, our brains, our bodies.
On the one end of the spectrum is the trip we just had. A mind-blowing “Amir trip.” Although I have had this kind of travel experience in new and significant places with guides other than Amir (most notably on the Mekong River), a truly empathetic, honest, and creative guide is almost always essential, a way to get out of your head and into someone else’s. Maybe you can do it on your own, but traveling with a storyteller who can put you in the story is a gift.
This trip, like our other forays into the Middle East in recent years, is so paradigm-changing that it will take time to process it. Even though I try to do it in real time via blogging, it’s only a start. There is a lot to chew over.
But life comes at you fast, especially after a trip, and has a tendency to swamp that kind of necessary introspection, so I am pledging to myself a daily meditation session to sit and breathe with my memories, photographs, and lessons learned. Transformative travel is great if it transforms in a lasting way, if you don’t come home and slip right back into your comfortable but ugly American slippers.
At the other end of the travel spectrum is the lie-on-the-beach, bring-me-an-umbrella-drink-full-of-lime-and-mint-and-maybe-some-fresh-fish-tacos, but for-God’s-sake-don’t-make-me-think-for-a-week vacation.
These take no processing afterward at all. The effort is in the advance work, clearing the decks, letting go, deciding you don’t care WHAT Trump does this week. That can be hard in its own way, but the hypnosis of a good vacation spot can kick in quick (thinking about YOU, Pedregal Resort in Cabo San Lucas.
And in between there are all kinds of trips. It occurs to me that this is one reason I like cruising. It’s a hybrid. There is something grand about unpacking only once, knowing you have the cozy bed every night where you are soothed to sleep by the sea, but still getting off the ship and having amazing experiences. Our best cruise shore adventures have either been when we’ve hired awesome local guides or just set off on foot for our own exploration.
Sometimes, like Antarctica, the cruise excursions are more adventure than you ever imagined, but sometimes you just decide to stay on the ship and have a restful, processing day of your own.
Travel typology is a curious luxury. Plenty of people don’t have the opportunity, or they do but can’t let go or aren’t curious or won’t spend the money, or whatever.
But I am beyond fortunate. I have both the means and the spendthrift genes to let me use them. And because of that good fortune, I have had life changing travel this last month.
And now I need a vacation.