Re-Entry (or Maybe Not)
It has been about a month since I returned from traveling, and yet I haven’t fully adjusted to being home. I don’t mean jet leg. Within a week my internal clock had adjusted and I was no longer reaching for a book at 3 AM. I’m also not talking about the pleasant but muddled daze that comes with having been at a remove from day-to-day responsibilities. I was on a busy schedule, so I never reached that blissful stage of complete relaxation. It’s a different sort of re-entry issue. And rather than being impatient with myself, I’ve decided to prolong that feeling of having a foot in another world. Here are a few steps I’ve been taking:
Freeze the frame. The sights in front of me are no longer the broad vistas of poppy fields, olive trees, and pine forests.
Back home my typical views are short-range, blocked by roof lines and densely clustered buildings. The other day I bumped into a friend who is a poet and just got back from a month’s stay at the Dora Maar house in Ménerbes. We commiserated over not being ready to give up the sense of openness that we had absorbed after drinking in expansive views from hilltops.
When I travel, I always have my camera with me. Now that I’m home, I’ve decided to keep my camera within reach so that I’m reminded to look for the small details, the odd angles, the striated sunsets. And no matter what might block my view, I pretend to see through to the long open lines.
Tease the nose. After a month away, my sense of smell became finely attuned to aromatics such as thyme and rosemary. Now I’m like a hunting dog when I step outside, twitching my nose in search of the strongest scents.
So I planted a bunch of herbs–basil, rosemary, thyme, coriander–in my garden. These aren’t only for cooking but so that I can rub their leaves and inhale the scents that immediately transport me back across the ocean.
Go for the goat. I fell in love with goats’milk products while I was away. They tasted of the wild smells of the local landscape. Now that I’m home, I stock up on goat yogurt and a few rounds of chèvre each time I go to the market. My stomach isn’t completely fooled, and I’ve gained or pound or two, but I’m in no hurry to curtail the new routine.
Listen for the echos. After being jolted awake by loud church bells, I eventually became accustomed to their chiming every hour of the day and night. My ears still ring at the top of each hour, even as I sleep at a hushed distance from bells. I also still hear the creaking of wooden shutters opening to the new day, the clinking of coffee cups at cafés, and the splashing of fountains in village centers.
Not only do I encourage these sounds to echo in my imagination, but I’m also making more of an effort to get past the noise and find the beautiful sounds that happen here each day.
Initiate unexpected connections. In the United States and other countries it’s customary to avoid eye-contact and, when we step into a store or onto a bus, to rush into the question at hand. We blurt out, “How much does this cost?”“How do I get to..?”But in France it is considered rude not to begin every encounter with bonjour and end it with au revoir. I’ve taken to walking down the streets of Boston saying “hello” to whomever I pass. Some pretend they don’t hear and keep walking. But usually a stony expression cracks open and a sincere greeting is extended in return. Two psychologists recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that these casual interactions actually make us happier. It’s a small exchange between strangers, but it’s real.
Travel forces us to acknowledge our surroundings, awaken our senses, and pay more attention to how we interact with others. As souvenirs, these gifts are worth holding onto as long as possible.