That famous ‘detachment’ – the ideal of the wandering ascetics and the religious floaters who claim for themselves that they are ‘at home anywhere’, not attached to things and to people, always ‘on the road’.
Matsuo Basho, the author of The Narrow Path into the Interior, has phrased this code of unrestrained ‘freedom’ rather well:
Whether you are a lifelong drifter on a boat or, in your old age, year after year you’re keeping a tired horse at the reins, every day you are performing a journey – that is your home … When I got home last fall from a trip along the coast that lasted a year, I already longed again to cross the border post of Shitikawa… I was completely captivated by Dōsojin, the wandering spirit. I could not concentrate on anything anymore.
Always on the move, even while you’re at home. This inner turmoil is already there before the stress takes over the body. You might also call it a spasm.
Of course, anyone who thinks and writes needs to occasionally change couleur locale, meet new people and new things in order to be stimulated into new ‘experiences’. Hence Wordsworth’s ode to walking; hence Nooteboom’s frequent travel – say the Paustovsky’s of this world, those who exist in the illusion of metamorphosis.
Could it be that all these arch-travellers have a poor memory of their youth? Somewhere Nooteboom said that he sometimes wonders about the accuracy of many people’s memories of their youth. ‘Others can peddle their entire childhood, complete with dates, schools and events, as if they are their own computer. But I can not. Sometimes I ask myself if really have existed in the past’.
The eternal traveller, then, someone always I search of his temps perdus?
Walt Whitman, sprung from a Nation on the Move, sang his love song on that eternal movement:
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
In this song we at least find the loved ones to whom the poet apparently had somehow been attached – he carries them with him. Nevertheless, this is a tribute to regular displacement with ‘the here and now’ as one’s ‘home’ and one’s mind merely a repository of things and people that may be pondered. However, you cannot call this attachment anymore. ‘Souvenir’ is probably a better word. Temps perdus – those loved ones are no longer there for Whitman, even though they are still alive…
The instinctive traveller is someone who gains ‘friends’ fast – and quite a lot of them. However, he has no soul mate. For such arch-friendship regular contact is needed, as well as a distinct preference for the immediate and the earthy. True, deeper friendship requires a caring attitude – that immediate contact which allows the other his obvious uniqueness.
In all Nations on the Move virtually everybody gets new ‘friends’ regularly, calling these comparative strangers ‘friend’, then to move on and update the address list to fill it with new ‘friends’. In postmodernity face book gave this an enormous, world-wide impulse. Call it friends-hopping. The increase in the number of divorces in the postmodern era also is a bad sign. Love and true friendship are indeed diametrically opposed to such continuous separation.
When seeing this picture of my two bags of luggage placed under the piano in Haarlem, one may think that I too have become part of that army of the treacherous. Seventeen years, these bags have been placed there, to remain unopened or just to take out one thing, this after I have spent the previous six months in France. Like, on arrival in Haarlem I am already thinking of my next departure – as if I were a Basho.
Nothing is less true. Leaving those bags untouched is the result of sheer laziness. There is also the ponderous circumstance that I usually have enough clothes lying around in cabinets to come by for these six Dutch months. To transport the bags to and fro is actually insane.
I simply must return to Haarlem again and again, because out there I begin to seriously miss my few friends. Writing letters is a temporary variant of friendship, a sign of concern for them and of their concern for me. But there must again be eye contact, talks should flourish, chess must be played on a real board and eye to eye – not just through the e-mail.
Moreover, with age the urge to have ‘new experiences’ is diminishing. My bags under the piano are a sign of the last two places I want to visit in this life: Haarlem and La Roche. Naturally, in the perimeter of these two sites of residence I go out for picnics in nice places or for a walk in Amsterdam or Zutphen. C’est tout!
Unlike Nooteboom, Paustovsky could remember his early childhood very well. So this does not seem to be the motive for those travel spastics. Could it be that to become a globetrotter, like Nooteboom and Paustovsky, one should lose one’s father early in life? No, methinks, this is also not the motive; I lost mine quite untimely.
By not travelling much and mostly not too far have I become only a minor ‘minor poet’? A man who merely makes little rides instead of world voyages, thus only the writer of small poetry and little texts – moreover someone who from his youth remembers barely anything…
However, occasionally there is a great writer who has never left. My hero for instance, the Dutch writer Nescio. But then again that man always wrote very short pieces.