Quite often, when I tell my colleagues or friends of where I’m headed, or where I’ve just been back from, they would exclaim something along the lines of “You’re lucky to get to travel!” and throw me a look that’s a mix of tease and envy. For a long while, I would shrug in response, unsure of what’s really appropriate to say except that it had nothing to do with luck. These days, I take the trouble to point out that it has actually very little to do with luck, but everything to do with making the choice and a bit of planning. As dull as it sounds, it’s what it takes.
Still, it surprises me that people around me think I travel more than I actually do. I can think of too many places I want to see and that I haven’t yet been to, and I do end up in the same few cities more frequently than I’d like. I’ve never undertaken the Australian tradition of travelling around the world for a year between high school and university, nor backpacking around Europe for a summer. To me, that arrangement seems too greedy somehow, like trying to gorge the world in one mouthful. My preferred way of doing it has been to move to a continent and poke around there for a little while.
Perhaps all it is, is that “travelling” means something different to me than to my friends. Travel is a way to see the world, and I’ve learned to do that even between the 30-minute metro ride between my home and the office. The scale of the journey is all about perspective. You can learn a lot about a city’s people by getting into the public transport at different times of day. You can learn all about the lay of its neighbourhoods — who has it tough, who has it easy — just by who gets on at which stop, who gets off where, and who are the ones driving the cars. I am a perpetual wanderer, a traveller in the city I live, because I know I won’t be here forever — whether I be eventually displaced geographically, or by the arrow of time.
And so, even if I feel myself almost native to Paris because I end up passing through almost every year, I have never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, I have been to the bottom — just once. There was a famous French writer (whose name now escapes me) who ate breakfast at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower every morning when it was built, precisely because he loathed it and it was the only place in Paris where you couldn’t see it. I just wanted to know what kind of view he might have had.