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yu-en-me ´a man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher, .. he who goes from country to country guided by blind impulses of curiosity is .. a vagabond.´ - oliver goldsmith

an ode to loneliness, self-imposed or otherwise

ARGENTINA | Thursday, 12 July 2007 | Views [1762]

sunset over patagones

sunset over patagones

a friend recently sent me an email telling me how unbelievable some of my travel stories are, and how she suspected that i was making things up... the best travelblog fake, she was sure! sometimes i can´t help a wry smile when people email me saying that they´re jealous of the stuff i´m experiencing over here, and while it´s true that i wouldn´t have my life any other way right now, i can also assure you that for every extreme high that i experience, there are also some damned lows to compensate. this groupmail is a long one, but it´s straight from the heart, so bear with me.
there are so many advantages to travelling alone: i make ´connections´ with people who i wouldn´t normally meet; people are more open to inviting me to share their homes, their lives, their experiences; it´s a lot easier for one person to hitchhike; i have the liberty to go wherever i want, whenever i want, without having to accommodate other people´s plans, .. just to name a few. but of course, this freedom is double-edged: at the end of the day, i´m alone. and although i concede that ´alone´ doesn´t always equal ´lonely´, you´d be incredibly naive if you didn´t admit that there was a link. at best, after a particularly good day, you send an email with a faulty description of an amazing encounter with some person who left you on a high, or you take a photo which only captures 3% of the beauty which left you breathless. at worst, after a particularly bad day where all you need is physical human contact, you convince/content yourself saying ´i know i have loved ones out there who would give me a hug if they knew how shit i felt,´ and try and ignore the voice that adds spitefully ´even if the closest one is still 1000km away!´
i´ve long since accepted that if i want to continue travelling this way (ie, not just for ´holidays´, but working and travelling at the same time), i´m limiting myself on the sentimental field. although i had a lot of fun as a young filly and have absolutely no regrets, it´s pretty much the case now where if i want something serious, the guy (or girl, let´s not limit myself even further ;) has to be a like-minded traveller as well. for the last couple of months, i was with one such person, and even though there were some obvious incompatibilities, it was great to be able to share experiences directly with someone without resorting to composing an email. so when that ended a couple of days ago, i was naturally down. on top of that, i´d just changed lodging arrangements, and was sleeping on the floor in the house of an eccentric 58yo guy who i´d met the previous week.
as much as i´ve come to appreciate this guy, Arturo, there´s no way to dress up the state of his 3-room hovel (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom). his living quarters are straight out of a movie (think the old guy in Amores Perros who took in the injured fighting dog) : fruit- and onion-peels rotting on the bench and table, old cobwebs floating off the walls and covering shelves, eggshells and other rubbish festering on the floor, grime on the floor everywhere in the house, snails on the wet floor and walls of the bathroom... absolutely filthy. but absolutely exhausted, emotionally, physically, mentally, and having no other choice for the night (it was already close to midnight) i gingerly put my pack down on the least mouldy surface, stretched my sleeping bag out on a somewhat damp mattress, and went to sleep.
when i woke up the next day, the weight of a failed romance and pathetic self-pitying thoughts of ´who would ever accept/share your lifestyle´ came crashing down on me. the thought that the closest person i had to comfort me was this bum, who obviously lived in a world of his own, was enough to bring tears to my eyes, and feeling so completely and desperately alone, i escaped to the (dubious) comfort of cyberspace. reading and replying to emails, and chatting to 2 friends on msn (te debo nico, de verdad te quiero, and dave, honestly, thank you, not just for yesterday but also for everything since santiago last year - your maturity and friendship is inspiring) made me realise that i *wasn´t* as alone as i felt.
feeling much better, i went ´home´ and there, i realised what a completely self-absorbed pussy i´d been. whereas my ´alone-ness´ is self-imposed by my choice of lifestyle, there are so many people, especially in their latter years who live in social isolation. i´m not going to paint Arturo as a saint: he´s unemployed (and hence very little money), peevish, has strong opinions about everything, 2 daughters my age who are ashamed of him, and family who doesn´t want anything to do with him, because he´s a cantankerous old fart (his words, not mine, although i wholeheartedly agree). he´s intelligent and lucid, albeit eccentric, worked as an argentine consul, speaks impressive english and french, likes monty python, prefers tea to coffee, and likes zabaglione-flavoured ice cream. (hey! one´s never too depressed to share a love of ice cream!) he´s grumpy, but has a quirky sense of humour, and it´s a delight to see him explode with laughter when something tickles his funnybone (eg, HIM - ever seen the movie ´7 years under a doormat´? ME - no...you don´t mean ´7 years in Tibet´, do you? HIM - no, no, ´a year under a doormat´ ME - i thought you said 7 years? HIM - what, one year under a doormat isn´t enough for you?). and he´s alone.
we live in a mad mad world where a 24yo girl from the ´right side of the tracks´ in a nice developed country can strike up a friendship with a 58yo ´bum´ living in slum conditions on the other side of the world. i feel so completely ashamed that i judged him as a person just because of the state of his living quarters, that i dismissed him as a potential friend just because i thought he was strange. mind you, i still think he´s different, but that doesn´t mean he can´t be a friend (and besides, who am i to talk, i´m not exactly the picture of normalcy either)...
i don´t really know where i´m going anymore with this anecdote, but the aim of this email was just to tell you all that:
1) every time one of you writes to me, it´s a lot more important than you think. if you don´t write because you´re busy, i can understand. but if you don´t write because you think you have nothing exciting to write about, pull your finger out, and click ´compose new message´, for f$ck´s sake!
2) we all have stories, and are worth knowing. little kids will always have someone going gaga over them, and young people have their youth and beauty to attract friends, but old people and ´bums´ are dismissed as not worthwhile. in the same way that an email is probably a lot more important to me than you think, a smile and a few words are probably a lot more important to others than you might imagine...
enough moralising, í´m cold and wanna go home. ´til next time.

Tags: I should have known better!

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