devi: (sunhead)
It´s funny the effect losing my bag has had on me. I´d spent weeks carefully constructing this travel self, prepared for every eventuality. Scoured shops for clothes that would cover me up against the insects and dry quickly if I hand-washed them. Packed universal bath plug, two kinds of adaptor, earplugs, a mini-pharmacy. Hunted for tiny toiletries so I wouldn´t have to haul about big bottles of shampoo etc. The careful packing was proof against all the dire warnings and something I used to reassure all the people who were worried about me. It was a mental security blanket. And then it got lost, and I had the odd experience of having to re-buy everything haphazardly, having a foreign rucksack full of unfamiliar Peruvian products and an odd assortment of clothes, all the best of a bad lot rather than anything I´d have chosen. The security blanket is gone, and... I kind of like it. Only having a small bag is brilliant. I´d packed light but this little bag is even lighter. When I´ve been travelling before, the transitional bits between one place to stay and another have been an ordeal. Haul the big heavy bag to the new place as quickly as you can, dump it, lie and gasp for a bit and then explore. This way you can check out of somewhere in the morning, wander around all day, arrive at the next place in the evening and not even be tired. The line between essential and desirable things to bring has moved.

Then there´s language. I know a bit of phrasebook Spanish. I can book things and ask directions and stuff. Somehow (arrogantly, it seems now) I thought this would get me by. I was picking it up all the time, after all. But obviously it´s not enough to talk to people, to understand them, to express things beyond the sort of "Mrs Lopez works for Rover. She has a good salary" stuff in my Instant Spanish book. I am saying things are very good, with the genders mixed up half the time, and saying thank you a lot. And like I found in China, when a lot of your coping strategies revolve around language it feels pretty naked to be without it. But I´ve discovered something very interesting. If you haven´t got much language you are forced to be open and straightforward. You meet some little village kid who throws a handful of leaves over you to welcome you to her village and instead of trying to think up something sensitive and appropriate to say, you just ask what her name is. If you want to ask for something you just ask for it, just the words you need, without ringing it round with a maze of caveats, circumlocutions and apologies. You just say what you mean.

So I was lying on my mat on the floor of a wooden house deep in the jungle last night, staring up at the dark rafters of the banana-leaf-thatched roof. There was a crack in it where you could see one star. The room was full of zigzags of cricket noise, punctuated by dripping from the trees. And I realised, suddenly, that everyone in this house thought I was Dutch and none of them knew my name.

The guide/interpreter guy who had set it up for me to come here, the son of the painter (thereby hangs a tale), had gone home, as had the nice English-speaking boy who drove the mototaxi. I had heard the others, all exclusively Spanish-speaking but for a tiny Japanese girl with no English either, saying I was from Holland. It was what they heard no matter how many times I said "Irlanda". And when they´d spoken to me earlier they thought my name was Gloria or Ji-dah or Dray-da, and I´d say it again and they´d look puzzled, then shrug. It was just an impossible collision of consonants. So there I was, in the middle of the forest. I´d lost my stuff, I´d lost my language, and now it was as if I´d even lost my nationality and my name.

And that felt kind of liberating as well, so that I nearly laughed out loud. It was as if all the extraneous nonsense had been stripped off some fundamental thing that was me. But who ´me´ was wasn´t important. I´m Nobody, I thought, so I can be whatever I like.

Unfortunately all I could actually do at that point was go to sleep, but it´s the principle.
devi: (Default)
England really made an effort as I was coming back from Gatwick yesterday morning. It hit me with the works: darling buds and clouds of blossom on the trees, baby lambs who were definitely gambolling, morning mist lifting softly from the fields, half-timbered houses covered in climbing rose, shafts of sunlight beaming from the clouds. "Look at me! Look at me!" it was saying. "What a green and pleasant land I am!"

But despite all that, and despite deciding halfway across the Atlantic to cram my ears with all the music I could think of that would remind me where my loyalties lay - the Streets, the Clash, the Pistols, Saint Etienne, "Irish Blood, English Heart" - I'm sorry to be home. I'm back in the flat, which seems poky and grubby and cheerless, and my suitcase is sitting behind me, reproaching me for no longer living out of it.

I've had three weeks of adventure, exploration, converting strangers into friends, and freedom from all the burdens of ordinary life. London and work and bills and daily grind were literally on the far side of the world, not my problem. This is part of what holidays are for. I'd forgotten.

That could apply to any holiday, but also... I went to America full of preconceptions. Most of them got proved wrong. But the one thing I wasn't expecting was getting completely smitten with the place. I have a new crush on America. I left my heart in San Francisco, I could actually feel the drag in my chest as we sped away from it on the BART, and then went on to leave other vital organs in Portland and Seattle. I loved small things (peanut butter milkshakes; beatnik bookshops with sections labelled "Anarchy", "Class War" and "Muckraking"; endless coffee; smoking cloves on a balcony in Seattle looking at the sunset over the Olympic mountains) and big things (the way they've got proper, vast, breathtaking wilderness; the way everyone we met seemed so politicised, principled and angry with the government and generally not apathetic). Of course there was bad stuff too, like beggars with one leg and the hollowness of Hollywood, but I was expecting the bad stuff. I wasn't expecting the love, so it knocked me over.

People, please help remind me why I love London. I do. It's always mixed with hate, but every time I think I've had enough of this city it shows me something amazing or tantalises me with a story, and I feel the rush of being at the centre of things and forgive it for another while. That feeling will come back given a little time, I know.

I feel completely stateless right now. I don't want to move back to Ireland any time soon, and it isn't quite the Ireland I left anyway. I feel dislocated from London, and I've always known doing the London Thing wasn't forever, and I can't think of anywhere else in the UK I'd really like to live. And everyone knows brand-new shiny crushes are not to be trusted. Where on earth do I belong?

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