Thursday, March 13, 2014

Travel Thoughts, 2:40 a.m.: Anticipation and Anxiety

I realize I might be wise to preface this post with an admission that mine is very obviously a First World problem. But I do try to write honestly about my life, and anxiety is part of that, even if it is an anxiety that arises out of good fortune. I will say that the good fortune so clearly displayed here is balanced in as many ways as I can manage. And that it was arrived at, and is still accompanied by, considerable frugality in ways I don't feel I need to detail. Suffice it to say the European holidays were not a part of our lives while raising our four kids, nor through my interminable grad-school years.  . . .

At 2:40 in the morning, awakened by an anxiety dream, I know absolutely that our trip to Europe this summer is a mistake. A huge waste of resources: time, energy, money. Never mind that we will also be away from home, yet again, when the roses are in bloom, the overwhelming pink June fragrance of my Complicata roses competing for attention with the Constance Spry only experienced through the last wilting petals, the hips already beginning to form by the time we return. . .

At 2:40 in the morning, the modern disposition and ability to travel bizarre distances in preposterously short periods of time seems not only an egregious eco-crime but also a sin against an atavistic responsibility to be at home in geography, in landscape. Why turn elsewhere for experience, for happiness, for knowledge when surely these can, should, perhaps even must be found right where we live?

And at 2:40 in the morning, I feel overwhelmed by all the lists I haven't yet corralled onto paper: booking flights but first deciding will we do open-jaw or fly in and out of the same European city; booking trains, but first comparing to costs of budget European airlines; deciding how many nights in cities connecting trains, planes, and whatever; finding hotels in same cities after poring over TripAdvisor et al. . .; wondering whether to manage yet again for 4 weeks with carry-on luggage only or perhaps just this once to splash out with a larger wardrobe -- and if, inevitably, I go with carry-on once more, what will stay, what will go . . .

But at 2:40 in the morning, I also accept and sigh over and, trying not to toss-and-turn my husband awake, sometimes get up to think about, in my big leather club chair in the downstairs dark of our livingroom, the reality that the trip has been booked. Not just our trip, but those of our daughters' and son's families. We are all (3 of our 4 children, and their partners/families) -- and even during my 2:40 a.m. anxieties I acknowledge the beautiful good fortune of this -- spending a week together in Italy's Puglia region this June. I'm not sure how my parents ever managed it, but when my mom died last spring, 13 years after my father passed away, we found that she'd left a nice little bounty of cash for each of her many children. A week in the European countryside together has long been a dream of ours, and mom's legacy seemed a good way to make that happen; the time together a good way to honour her. We almost had all four families coming along, but someone has another project on the go -- a project that will mean more family if/when we ever pull off such a trip again, but that's all I'm saying about that for now . . . The bottom line, though, is I would be scuttling more plans than my own were I to worry us right out of this holiday.  Even at 2:40, I have to concede that we have to stick to a family plan.

So then, next, at 2:40 (okay, you're right, it might be 2:45 by now), I wonder if, perhaps it would be simpler if Paul and I, just this one year, skipped our time in France. What if we went straight to Italy, bookending our week with the kids with a few city days in, say, Rome or Florence or Venice, and called it a holiday. Certainly glorious times would be had in that shorter span. Less time away from home. Fewer complicated connections. Less need for laundry facilities. Fewer dollars expended on hotel stays.

Eventually I drift back to sleep. Perhaps my dreams recall me to the happy wanderings Pater and I have enjoyed together in Paris over the past ten springs. Even the unhappy ones -- a cranky eruption over a too-long walk and a too-elusive bathroom in Paris' Bois de Boulogne one year -- bring us together through confrontations we can't escape as well as through memories we later chuckle at together. Or not. . .

Whatever the case, when I wake, about 6:45, and I talk to Pater about my early-hours anxiety, I'm able to reassure him that I'm now ready to get started booking our holiday. Despite its high cost, in so many ways, I know that over the last decade, our European vacations, compulsive as they may seem to others, have been a worthwhile investment in our relationship. We arrive in France each year from a work schedule that tends to restrict couple time to the edges, edges that get shared with family and fitness and every sort of interfering errand. France distances us from all that while offering us a space that we've built together out of place and time, layers and layers of experiences shared, a particular, even peculiar, bond in the fact that we share a second language of French (limited French, yes, but functional and, importantly, shared between us). We are a different couple than we are anywhere else in important ways that only we experience. Our exclusivity as a couple is heightened in France in a way that faintly recalls the various dramatic exclusivities of our 41 years together.

In other words, I guess, this holiday that I worried over in the middle of the night is a holiday that will reset us as a couple, return us to a beginning in some tiny way, yet doing so by building on a rich shared past.

I've done this little journey from 2:40 to 7:00 a.m. a number of times in the past, and I doubt that I've reconciled myself yet to all the future journeys that will require their own early-morning monologues.

For now, though, Yes, I'm ready again. Bring on the travel websites!

In fact, I'll soon post a bit more about where we hope to go, how we hope to get there, what we hope to do, etc., etc. Meanwhile, though, am I the only one who frets. Tell me, do you also ask "Should I Stay or Should I Go"? or have you a bag already packed and waiting by the door . . . .


34 comments:

  1. Right now, I am having an awake time every night in London. Like you, this year I have so many add-ons that budget airlines, coaches, ferries seem to roll across my mind at 2:30. Monsieur is at home and my daughter has been "laid-off" at work. You are fortunate to have most of your family together on the trip and it will work out. I have a tendency to feel anxious especially at times of transition or uncertainty but most of my worries are unfounded and the others can not be fixed from long-distance.
    Paris will be another special year that you will not regret!

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    1. I know it will work out and be a good thing. Funnily enough, it's at the decision-making time that the transition bothers me. Once I'm committed, I'm generally fine et puis, je ne regretterais rien . . . . ;-) I'm following your London travels with interest, btw

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  2. You have to stick to a family plan - and you must visit Lecce. It's beautiful. Last year was a horrible year for me (I won't go into detail online) and as a special thank you to Mr TNMA I'm taking him to Paris next week - it's the perfect place to wander, eat, drink and enjoy life - I worry about money too as we don't have a lot, but agree that this is an 'investment in our relationship'.

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    1. I've heard this over and over. Puglia seems to be the latest place to discover -- a number of articles have been published in mags and newspapers since we decided.
      I know you'll have a wonderful time in Paris -- I can't think of much that holds its value the way travel does, even though it seems to disappear with the calendar. The effects, for me at least, last for such a long time in many unpredictable ways.

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  3. Long-distance travel is a high-ticket item, so it is wise to clarify the values that underlie the expense. (I have done both: decided to spring for a big trip, and cancelled one.) Sounds like your children are committed to and excited about this trip •with you two•, and your mother wished it, too! Though you are anxious, it sounds like the decision has already been made- so, geez Louise, you might as well have a blast ;)

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    1. Yes, this is partly what I'm doing. Rehearsing both the cost and the benefits. The decision has definitely been made, and we will definitely have a blast! I'm already happily imagining us together on a terrace overlooking the sea, glasses full of red. . .

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  4. Wonderful post about the great effects of travel, always returning a little fuller than you left. It seems to me that the harvest you reap ( much longer lasting than the beautiful roses) in your relationship alone outweighs cost of travel, the seeming exclusiveness, the fuel, etc. There will always be people who don't understand that, of what importance is that?
    And what a tribute to your mother, sharing the joy with your children. My two cents- you still the time with Pater! You work so hard!

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    1. In the end, Megs, I really believe this as well. So many material things we haven't bothered with, and I don't miss them at all, but the way my senses come alive in a European city, and the way my husband and I relax into each other's walking pace. . . . priceless, as the commercials say.

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  5. I don't get that anxious about travel per se, but on the other hand I don't go for so long! I did, when I was working, spend many a 2:30am worrying through work. Everything always feels dire at that time.

    Must be the brain waves:).

    I'm glad you're going. I hope it is all wonderful. And I'm glad these trips are good for you and Pater.

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    1. I do think there's something biochemical that happens around 2:30 that does make things seem more dire. Mostly, I know that, but the voice can be so convincing.
      The travel itself I'm not particularly anxious about. It's the being away from home that tears a bit. Hard to explain, but it's a deeper philosophical choice I'm working through, I think, at some level. a wee bit existential which is way too precious but also true. I can go there with almost anything, though, especially at 2 a.m. ;-)

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  6. I don't worry about travel - I travelled a lot from the age of 3 weeks, so it doesn't make me anxious - but I do tend to be a little obsessive about getting things ready at home (I couldn't care less about packing etc). I spend ages writing ridiculous lists about what needs to be done on what day; which meals in the freezer are to be eaten in which order; what the pets need ...
    I'm hoping one day Spouse & I will find travel to be a good thing for our relationship. At the moment I find travelling with him often irritating, because I like to wander without an itinerary (ie spend a day just going where my feet take me) whereas he wants a 'plan' for every waking minute. Also, even on holidays I desperately need time alone, and he doesn't understand this at all.
    An extended family holiday will be a wonderful thing that you will all talk about for years to come. Maybe you're getting your anxiety out of the way so that you can really enjoy it - I hope so!

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    1. Part of me really would love a week to myself before we go away together, at least. Part of me would love to have the whole first month or two after classes end just to lounge at home. And I know we irritate each other despite trying to be on best behaviour -- at least until we surrender to the dictates of whatever city we're in. We're both pretty content wandering -- and he's very good in letting me set the itinerary. I think I'm pretty annoying in always wanting to know when and where all my meals will be. Not too long after our morning croissant and I'll be wondering where we should have lunch. Ditto lunch to dinner.
      I do think it will be a wonderful holiday together . . . . but I'm laughing at the notion of ever, ever, ever "getting my anxiety out of the way" -- that's a big mountain! ;-)

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  7. Our perfect place is Africa, but getting there from the US is so expensive. So we budget and save, as you do, and then relish our experiences for years. For those of us who can do this, it is life changing. I could not travel much for two years due to health problems, so it is wonder to be able to do so again. I'm looking forward to the time when we can just be a couple -- one more year with our youngest which is bittersweet. Lynn

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    1. Wow! Yes, that is an ambitious travel destination and not something you could do often. I have heard that it is monumental, life-changing. Which would make it the kind of place that tugs and tugs to get you back to it. There is something wonderful to traveling again as just a couple. Bittersweet with the overlaid memories of trips with kids but very special in a kind of return to the early courtship pattern yet enhanced by the comfort of a mature relationship.

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  8. Your trip sounds wonderful and I look forward to hearing more about it.
    Wanderlust is so common among Australians I regard it as normal. Perhaps as a country of immigrants it is an inherited trait. It's not ennui with our own lives, rather a fascination with the variety of the world.
    In my work I have encountered many elderly. Most say their biggest regrets are not the things they did but those they didn't do, risks they didn't take places they didn't see.
    Our own plans for a year in Europe have had a setback. We live in a 120 year old house which has developed sudden severe structural problems requiring urgent and massively expensive repairs. The builders start next week. I hope we will still be able to make our trip, albeit scaled back a bit.
    Lilibet

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    1. You Australians do get out and about, don't you?
      My parents backpacked through Europe together for about six months when my dad first retired, at about 57. Hostels, washing undies in the sink, renting a little cottage on the beach in Greece, all of it. And they went back to England whenever they got the chance. My mother visited those memories so many times after Dad died -- she managed to make one or two trips with an aunt, but mostly contented herself with remembering the rich travels she and dad had done together. That did teach me lot, I must say.
      Sorry to hear about your renovations expenses -- hope you can still have some version of your trip -- it must be a wonderful house, though, deserving of the sacrifice.

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  9. Thnak you, wonderful and honest post. I am traveling next week and I am always anxious before I travel. Maryann

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    1. Ah, a kindred spirit -- the transition time difficulty, as Mme L-B says above.

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  10. I rarely travel for more than 2 weeks which seems to be the perfect time to be away. My partner doesn't like to travel - so the trips I take are usually with my children and grandchildren.

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    1. I do think 2 weeks is perhaps as much time as I want to be away except for the difficulty that I want to spend longer than that in the place I'm going to, if that makes sense. Because I really can't take any holiday from mid-August through mid-May, I spend all the vacation time in one fell away swoop.
      Is it wonderful travelling with the grand-kids? Looking forward to seeing what this week in Italy will be like with our two little ones.

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  11. Ah, this strikes home. My husband and I are just going back and forth about spending a few weeks in France and Italy this spring. We've spent quite a bit of time in the UK and Europe over the years, starting when our son was just 3 years old, but more recently, finally, just the two of us. Our quandary is similar to yours--is the cost and the time away really what we want? But you've also hit on exactly why we keep going over and over--the laughter, freedom, and sense of connection we share when we are out of our normal routines and responsibilities. Is it worth spending all those dollars to remember why we chose each other forty years ago? Your post is making me re-consider our wavering and just start booking our place in Paris.

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    1. There are so many things competing for our dollars, but I don't regret any I've spent on the travel we've done (not that there has been so much of that, overall a lifetime). I can't encourage you to book as I don't know your situation, but I know why you're re-considering . . . . the relationship needs feeding as well as the bankbook. . .

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  13. Ny husband and I are organizing a one week trip to Paris with our 12 and 13 yrs old daughters. Do you have any pointers about which airlines to chose, a hotel or apartment to rent? I have been there on my own but it is difference with the entire family. By the way, we live in Victoria. Thanks in advance for your comment.

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    1. How exciting! No recommendations re airlines--we swore off Air Canada after last year's trip, and are going into Heathrow this year with British Airways, then chunnelling across. Went KLM through Amsterdam a few years ago and that was good. The hotel I used to recommend has just been sold, and is undergoing considerable transition, so I'm not so sure. But we've been really happy in the past renting apartments through ParisAddress. If it were me, I'd want to be in the Left Bank, and close enough to Luxembourg Gardens -- just a good place to chill out with young people. They're too old to want to "play" in a park, but still nice to let off steam. And people-watching is always fun. I always find the Right Bank can get a bit overwhelming somehow. What fun you'll have planning -- do your daughters have any clear ideas of sights they'd like to see?

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    2. Thank you for the info. The girls have not express any preferences. I think whatever we do will be good as long as we don't go fm one museum after the other. The Left Bank is a good idea.

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  14. Oh, fascinating post, F! I totally understand that it's prudent to go to Italy with the family this year. I do understand that it's prudent to "reset" one's relationship with a knowable time away. But it seems to me that you've spent the last couple of years lamenting that you spend the most beautiful time of the year (in your insanely beautiful part of the world) visiting some other beautiful part of the world. And that costs money and time and energy! I get it. I suggest that perhaps you'd like to think ahead to next summer and, perhaps, plan a shorter jaunt away as a couple in a place closer to home. Then staycation and see if you can hit the reset button on those terms.

    I only fret about the money, btw. I have so many home projects I must tackle. They all cost a fortune. I have a teenager. While I'm very fortunate and I work hard, I'm certainly not in the rich zone of the one per cent. And I don't like to travel except as if I were in the rich zone of the one per cent. It makes for some very awesome vacations, rather sporadically. And shorter, by necessity, than yours.

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    1. Once I retire, we will surely shift our "away" time, perhaps to fall, perhaps to a break from the mid-winter gloom. For now, the only time I can be away from work is during the late spring or summer, unfortunately. And staying at home during this period is great in many, many ways but there can be so many distractions from us as a couple. ...
      I love the way you travel, a definite contrast from our much more budget-oriented approach. Thanks to you we had an astonishingly good meal in Amsterdam as well as drinks at the marvellous Dylan. . .

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  15. I absolutely sympathize with you! I feel the same anxiety before every trip – in my case coupled with a solid dose of fear of flying. In part this is probably because the need for planning and booking normally arises when I am up to my nose in work, so what could be a pleasant form of anticipation turns into just another chore on the to-do-list. Then, when the departure comes near, very often I am so exhausted that I don’t feel up to packing and would much rather disappear into bed for a week, with the blanket over my head. At the same time I know that the moment I lock the door behind me and head for the station or airport, with no more than a suitcase to worry about, this wonderful feeling of travel freedom sets in. (I don’t mention here the fear of flying which persists, of course, until touchdown at the other end.)
    I also understand your doubt about going away and missing beautiful moments at home. My solution is to very consciously spend some holidays at home and enjoy every minute of it. It always works, although in general it is exactly in those summers that we don’t get any sun at all and have to put the heating on in July ;-)
    When in Puglia, may I suggest you try and visit Lecce? I know there are many beautiful places in that part of Italy and in such a big group of travellers many different interests will have to be reconciled, but still - it is such a marvellous city with a large old centre within the ancient city walls. Many buildings there are covered in “pietra leccese”, a soft white stone which is easy to carve; so many houses are beautifully decorated with intricate carvings around windows and doors. If you go there, don’t miss to have an ice cream at the Gelateria Martinucci, one of the most famous of the area. Then there is Otranto, and Gallipoli... Puglia is so wonderful, I'm sure you are going to have a great time there!

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    1. Yes, this is a big part of the problem. The planning happens always at such a busy part of term, and I'm generally exhausted from the year's teaching, just finished weeks of marking and all the meetings that get piled into the weeks after exams. And I'm always wishing I could first get my outlines made up for fall classes and get my book orders decided and submitted. Then all the domestic and personal errands that have piled up through the academic year . . . Still, I know I'm very fortunate, and as you do, I try simply to make the most of the time we have together in Europe --what a gift -- and then to really enjoy my home once we get back.
      As for Puglia, I'm looking forward to it very much and I've heard Lecce is a must-see. Good to hear it again from someone who's been there. Thanks!

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  16. Oh yes, I worry and second-guess s lot of things at 2:30 a.m.! When I moved to Montreal from Vermont I discovered that Montrealers travel a lot, and that even the young have been to many more places, including exotic ones, than I ever had. They don't travel extravagantly, but with curiosity and a light touch-- it is about culture and education and enlarging one's view of the world. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to travel at this point in life; we worked very hard and saved and did without vacations or eating out for a lot of our life. Still, I'm concerned about the environmental impact of air travel particularly. Have a wonderful time, enjoy your family and each other, and don't worry. (We leave for Mexico City tomorrow morning.)

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    1. It sounds as if we share many similar ideas. And I love your characterization of young Montrealers travelling "with curiosity and a light touch."
      For us, it's such a joy and satisfaction, the many galleries In which we've learned, together, about art of the centuries, the people we've talked to in little villages, the concerts we've heard in wonderful old stone buildings, the twisting little streets we've walked along, holding hands, the menus we've puzzled over, the train platforms we've puzzled over how to get to. Except occasionally at 2:40 in the morning, I do know its worth the cost. Have a wonderful time in Mexico City!

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  17. I'm late to commenting here, the first time I read this post I just wasn't up to it, and it seems you've come to terms with your issues, an the compelling tug between differing desires and needs. It does seem that perhaps you should reconsider the plan for one future summer, perhaps not, after all you will retire one day. But I'm loathe to tell people to put too much off for someday. It seems like your anxieties point to something you are missing. Is there a chance for a sabbatical? Are there shorter excursions closer to home you could take one year that would perhaps bridge these different experiences. Is it possible to sneak away for a vacation at home, and let obligations rest for a few days?

    I'm sure your trip will be marvelous and it is all well worth the trouble and the sleepless worries. Have a marvelous trip, embrace the reset and the joy of being able to have that shared couple space… but be open to possible new resets as well.

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  18. Thanks, Mardel. I have resolved the issues I had, although some will be ongoing until retirement, I suspect. And that decision encompasses the same kind of revisiting of costs and benefits. . . .But that tends to be my overall approach to many aspects of my life. Unlike my husband, who makes a decision and then moves ahead, I tend to question and rethink and look ahead and look back, ad infinitum. I would love to have three or four months to do nothing but be at home, following my own rhythms, but I can't bear to give up our time in Europe which is precious and limited. Nor am I ready to retire, quite. So . . . thinking about resets, not quite ready to make them. . . c'est la vie, for the moment. . . ;-)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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