“Traveling is a brutality.
It forces you to trust strangers
and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home & friends.
You are constantly off balance.
Nothing is yours except the essential things:
Air – Sleep – Dreams – Sea – Sky…..
all things tending towards the eternal
or what we imagine of it.”
-Cesare Pavese –
Certainly travelling forces you out of your comfort zone. Between choosing what to pack for all British weather eventualities (snow is forecast for one day at Lumb Bank), preparing what to take for a fortnight’s travelling for a combination of both rugged country and inner city locations, my logistical muscles are getting a workout for this fortnight’s sojourn. With my laptop and all other writing utensils going as my single carry on I have to squeeze two weeks worth of travel clothing and comfort into a single bag no more than 20 kilos in weight. I keep lifting the suitcase (which has had three versions of travelling logistical schemes so far) and telling myself it’s not as heavy as a Cozyglow bag of coal. So it must be alright!
Yes, I will be leaving home and friends but I’ve modelled some of my essentials on a friend’s wisdom. When she left Ireland as a child she amused family by piling rocks into her suitcase. She counted that literal ‘touchstone’ as essential baggage to help her remember her homeplace. Last week she gave me both a Tibetan shawl from some of her own travels and a Hag Stone pebble. It’s small and has three holes through it. Hag stones are sacred to the Irish goddess the Cailleach; with the three holes it also resonates to the Triple Goddess. So I have a spiritual touchstone to keep me grounded and the shawl to keep me warm in what may be a chilly stone house at Lumb Bank. So much for renouncing comfort!
(As an aside I have become fussy about pillows in middle age. I once slept in nine beds in 14 days and forbore the discomfort by dreaming at each stopover that I would meet the Platonic ideal of the perfectly comfortable pillow. My nephew has good sources and won the challenge. There is no room to pack a pillow, which constitutes a great sacrifice of comfort and may compromise the essential of sleep.)
I digress. I have my symbolic travelling comforts of Hag Stone pebble and shawl. Hot water bottle. And herbal teabags. (One must cherish one’s digestion on the road.) Travel insurance. That’s about the height of it comfort zone-wise. There will certainly be strangers as I will travel with ten people only one of whom I’ve ever been introduced to before. But even nodding acquaintance still makes you essentially astrangers.
Whenever I prepare for a trip I think of my mother. She was the one who meticulously taught me the art of packing a suitcase. Of course, she did most of her travelling in Depression and wartime America when suitcases were things of utility, beauty and heft. I can hear Mom’s voice in my head, a memory of being taught the proper way to fold blouses, trousers,rolling socks. Like much of her advice, I deviate from the template. Yet every time I haul the suitcase out and prepare for another trip she turns up, telling me what matches or clashes, honing the perfect capsule wardrobe. My mother liked travelling, going places. She used to look up at passing planes while she hung out the laundry and feel her feet begin to itch. She did travel later in life and got to Italy, the Holy Land and England. While I pack I remember the excitement and yes, anxiety, too, of ‘going places.’ Anticipation is often a mixed emotion. Yet we volunteer for travelling, to be a bit off-kilter as we seek those things that are eternal.
Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts Office.