My older sister Zoe developed wanderlust at a young age and since then she’s visited Ecuador, Turkey, Peru, Brazil, and Mexico… (Tell me Zoe, am I forgetting a few countries?!) Years ago I recall her encouraging (a mild word for it, actually; a true travel convert, her tone was closer to admonishment) my father, who had never been abroad, to hop on a doggone plane already. His response was to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once wrote: “Traveling is a fool’s paradise.” Well, times have changed! In the past 2 years, my father has traveled twice to Japan and once to India, escorting students in the seminars he teaches on Japanese and Indian literature and culture (as you may have inferred from the Emerson-quoting, he is an English teacher). This past summer, my mother accompanied him on his second sojourn to Japan. They showed me beautiful photographs of strange forests and enchanting temples and the Kyoto alley cats pictured above (my mother tells me that the bottles in the final picture were placed there to keep cats from peeing on the property! The streets there are kept absolutely pristine—I have to wonder what Japanese tourists would make of Bushwick, yikes!). I was mesmerized. You see, I’ve never been abroad and I desperately want to go, but I guess I haven’t yet found the opportunity. I have a recurring dream that I’m in a new country. Exotic architecture and wild new landscapes unfold around me, and I can’t believe it, I’m finally abroad. In the latest dream, my sister was with me and I asked her to snap my photograph at the moment of our arrival. I struck a joyous pose, thinking, I’ve crossed over, my feet are on foreign soil. I’ve finally done it! I awoke later (minutes, hours? Dream-time is impossible to parse…) in my Brooklyn apartment, to ordinary American sun and the man across the street tuning his radio to Golden Oldies again… But the point is, I’m so happy my father decided to give traveling a go after all, and he has truly loved the experience, especially getting to know Japanese culture and some of the language. And I vow someday to join him, to join Zoe, my mother, my other sister, Phoebe, who’s been to China and Germany and Italy and Texas—which might as well be its own nation—and who was actually detained once in Russia, and God knows! Someday I will join the hallowed ranks of World Travelers.
Below is the full Emerson quote, for your reference. It’s basically a variation on “Wherever you go, there you are,” and I find these sentiments consoling when I’m lamenting my lack of travel experience.
“Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson