Ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed with the idea of travelling. I had done a little myself – living in the US for 3 years or visiting Cyprus with the family – and I also had two or three relatives who lived in faraway places. Travelling the world became my dream, and I can still clearly see myself at the age of 16, sitting in my small, ochre-coloured bedroom behind my glass desk, folding up price lists for round the world tickets to stash away safely for future use.
Not everyone understands the notion of travel being a valuable education. Your money is spent on something abstract and there’s nothing physical or concrete to show for it (perhaps a tan line or two).
And then recently I was asked for my opinion by my dad and his wife on their upcoming trip to India. This is the first time either of them have been there, and anyone who has been there (or lives there) knows that it is a place unlike anywhere else. They asked me what I thought about the locations they would be visiting and the speed at which they would be travelling, but the only thing I could reiterate was: “Don’t go too fast. It WILL be a culture shock, and it isn’t just about the sights but it’s about the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the culture.”
This reminded me why I spend the little disposable cash I have on travel. That very thing that has been nagging at me to get me back on the road. I sometimes forget that I’ve been to as many different places as I have now, as I am living a 9-6 job, with 20-something holiday days a year and where Friday does actually mean “It’s Friday!” It’s not just a longing. It becomes a part of you .
Every day I look at photos from Asia as part of my job, and my mind often wanders back to the streets of Tokyo. The cool touch of a cold chu-hi glass, sitting at a low table in a Japanese Izakaya
snacking on the bowl of edamame while you hear roaring laughter from the booth behind you as a group of salarymen are drinking their troubles away with their coworkers and the ‘IRRASHAIMASE’ of the waiters whenever someone enters. The exact feel of the lace taxi seat covering as you get in, after which the taxi doors close automatically and an old man, slightly rude and impatient, asks you through the glass where you are going. The sound of pachinko machines, car engines and shrill voices of girls dressed in school uniforms, giggling about something on their mobiles phones that jingle with the sound of a thousand ‘keitai’ hangers. But most frequently I am reminded of the smells of the kinekomochi – rice cakes covered in powder – walking through Asakusa when I first moved there, and I can see in front of me the layout of each side street and feel the aircon in the local convini whenever I listen to ‘Whitest Boy Alive’, my soundtrack on repeat at the time.
It only takes the earthy smell of dirt, renewed with life after a rainshower, to transport me back to the rainforest, any rainforest. Where a sudden cool breeze is met with great relief as temporary respite to an otherwise hot, humid and slightly oppressive air. The cacophony of birds large and small all chirping and calling out at the same time, interjected by the occasional frog or monkey, is not so much jarring as a source of tranquillity to the soul. The heavy tropical downpours that kick up the red dust, last so long and fall so hard that not only is the ground refreshed and water buckets refilled, but the rivers start to swell and you now start using the boat rather than the road. As I write this I can feel the raindrops falling onto my hand as if it were only yesterday.
It’s happened to me several times now when I’m cycling to work, and the sun is quite low still with a hint of fresh air but promising a warm day, and I pass this old building (I’m not sure whether it is being torn down or built), and I find myself in Bristol in time and space, but my mind places me on the streets of Antigua, not that I cycled around or spent more than a few days there. There seems to be a precise convergence of senses being stimulated that frequently throw my brain out of sync.
Such is the power of the mind that this past weekend, when I was filming in my local area which is suffering from the dry, hot spell we’ve been having. It was so reminiscent of the African savannah that I thought to myself “if only I could be in Namibia right now, where you can literally feel the open space in the air even if it’s not visible to the eye. If only I could walk on parched clay that hasn’t seen the rain for months, waiting for the first thunderstorm that will turn this wasteland into green pastures. If only I could hear the distant noises of a group of impala and zebras that have converged at the local watering hole and are clattering away. If only I could get into a truck and drive, to catch a glimpse of an ostrich poking its head out of the long grasses whilst the driver in the background talks to me in a thick, Afrikaans accent.”
The desire can be much closer to home too. Walking past a white-washed 1-story building on a cobbled street on a hot, blue-skied July brings on a strong desire to be walking down a backstreet with odd bit of litter and cigarette butts in a small town in Italy, where you can hear grannies shouting in Italian with such passion it almost makes them sound angry. An atmosphere of ‘who cares’ and ‘take things slowly’ is ever present, The heat that lasts into the evening, while you sit on the square with some friends, enjoying a glass of wine and bowl of olives, laughing, rejecting the rose vendor systematically approaching tourists. Forgive me for the rather stereotyped memory.
So now in September I’m travelling to Grand Teton and YellowstoneNational Parks. I haven’t been to the USA properly since I was 11. I’m very excited, but at the same time I’m hoping it will quell some of this restlessness in my heart and legs temporarily. Who knows what will remind me of that trip in the future: long drives along roads with few distinguishing features, or large flock of sheep blocking the road reminding me of bison.
Maybe it’s not just the place but also the state of mind you are in in those places – you’re on holiday therefore you’re relaxed, or you’re in a foreign country therefore you’re excited. Will I ever settle down anywhere, I wonder? Probably. In an ordinary house, in the countryside, not too far away from my family.
Will I ever lose that longing? Never.