We’ve been on the road for two weeks. In that time, we have traveled to two countries, two large cities (Auckland and Sydney) and hosts of small towns, hamlets and villages. We’ve eaten Turkish gozlemes in an outdoor market in Sydney, Indian takeaway in a small seaside town on the north island of New Zealand’s east coast, savory pies in Auckland and bad pizza in Cairns. We’ve slurped flat whites and lukewarm esspresso, sipped local beers—my favorite so far has been the Mac’s Three Wolves I had on the flight from Auckland to Sydney—and swallowed any number of lemon lime, ginger and root beer sodas. The longest we’ve stayed in one place was four nights in Sydney—all of the other stops have been one or two nights. Now, we are north Sydney in a place called Port Douglass, a lovely seaside town in the about 60 miles north of Cairns in the Queensland region. Today we sat on the beach—out to sea was the Great Barrier reef. When we walk into town we are walking toward the Daintree rainforest.
That’s all to say that the rhythm of our life and of our travel, to this point, has been a steady beat at a fast tempo—more like Beethoven’s Fifth than, say, Satie’s Gymnopedies. At home, we enjoy the long slow sweep of days that flow into one another to the degree that you can’t always remember what you did the day before—the notes hold, with some variation and minor articulations, across the days. Here, it’s more staccato than legato—we play a little harder and louder, although there are of course tranquil moments.
If that seems exhausting, at least up to this point, it hasn’t been. I was indeed exhausted when I got on the plane from Denver to Auckland—two solid months of fetching and hauling as we got the house an ourselves ready for the trip left me more depleted than I would have imagined. As the plane took off from Denver, I saw, with relief, all the Minor Details that I’d been chasing, fall away. Reducing your life of things to the contents of a backpack significantly simplifies certain things; however, there is some stress and strain in the reduction. Now, though, there are less clothes to wash, less cupboards to clean, floors to sweep and errands to run.
The intellectual work that occupies me at home—the article I’m trying to write, the list of books and journal articles I want to get through before the semester begins, or the pile of papers I have to grade before the semester ends—that has all faded away. I started a writing project a few months before we left, thinking I’d have time to chip away at it as we traveled. Until this minute, I haven’t thought of that project once since we left Denver. That writing project will still be there when I return home. The tyranny of email—checking more so than responding—has nearly vanished.
It’s not, though, like the days are empty of inquiry. In fact, there’s more searching, both internal and external, than I perform at home. On a very basic level, this sort of travel demands a good a level of investigation into daily needs. Yesterday morning, for instance, we woke up in Sydney to discover there was no coffee in the house. At home, I’d, without much thought, get on my bike and ride to Sprouts or just walk to Highlands Square and be back home within 20 minutes, coffee beans from Mexico in hand. Here, there’s an internet search involved and then, depending on how complicated you want to make it, a quick search on Google maps.
You could spend the better part of your day, cell phone in hand, searching up the best falafel shop, beer garden or pizza joint, let alone the closest bus or light rail stop. But that, too, can become another form of tyranny.
On another level, there’s a wider ranging search to understand the history and the complexity of the places we are visiting. Before we left, I spent the better part of the summer working my way through ancient and contemporary travel narratives of central Europe as well as histories of the Hapsburg Empire and World War I. I tried reading material about Oceania and Southeast Asia (the first, two-month leg of our journey), but decided to wait until I arrived in those places. I’m glad I did that, as I don’t think that, for instance, the book on the birds of Australia that I’m currently reading would have interested me as much at home in Denver as it does as I’m traveling through Australia. This level of exploration has, up to this point, been the most energizing and exciting and its fun, too, to make connections as you experience one thing after another. For instance, in my last post, I wrote about the young Gadigal man who spoke before the Children’s Film Festival. The following day, we visited the Rocks Museum near the central business district of Sydney where we learned a great deal more about the aboriginal people who inhabited Sydney before Europeans arrived at the end of the eighteenth century. This morning, I spent a good bit of time, wandering around and identifying trees and birds. I’ll probably do that again this afternoon. In fact, I’m going to go to that right now!