A December “Briefly Noted” in the New Yorker about Edmund White’s new biography of Rimbaud struck a synchronous note with an essay by Bruce Chatwin entitled “It’s a nomad nomad world,” which I happened to read a few days later. Why? Rimbaud and Chatwin were both inveterate wanderers (and I hope the similarities end there because Rimbaud sounds horrid and I like the restless Chatwin).
Why do we wander? Why would someone with a lovely place to live in Italy want to spend time elsewhere? Why does anyone want to pick up stakes and move? It’s not all economics or thinking that ‘the grass is greener over there’. Chatwin, in his essay, posits that our genetic heritage makes us move: “All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.”
Man has existed in more or less his present state for perhaps 200,000 years; civilization dates from at least 4,000 BC., or earlier. Before that people wandered of necessity to find food and/or shelter. Now, maybe, we wander because of the restless gene that pricks our curiosity and makes us want to see the geography of other parts of the world, hear strange languages and meet people with different frames of reference (and maybe eat some new and interesting food as well). Maybe, as well, that urge for movement makes 1-hour commutes acceptable to vast numbers of people who are otherwise sane.
There are those who cheerfully wander in their imaginations, and sometimes I think they have the best trips of all. At the very least they’re home in time for supper. But others are afflicted with such wanderlust that a month at ‘home’ is painful. Most of us, I suppose, fall somewhere in between, being happy by our own hearths most of the time, while enjoying an occasional safe journey.
But isn’t it nice when planning the madness of, say, airplane travel or a long stay in a strange place, to know that we really can’t help it? It’s a biological imperative!
Yesterday I put my visiting sister and her friend on a plane for home and I’m going to leave sunny, warm Arizona to go to grey, wintery Vermont for about a week. It’s something I just have to do…
Where are you going? Do you travel frequently or are you a homebody?