On Homesickness and Travel

At my favorite place at my favorite time of day with one of my favorite people in the world. Home.

At my favorite place, at my favorite time of day, with one of my favorite people in the world. Home.

One of the barriers that keeps people from traveling more often, if at all, is the fear of homesickness. People fear not being in close contact with loved ones and familiar environments, with those things, those people, with which they belong.

But in my travels, I’ve been blessed, lucky, fortunate enough to construct familiarity and develop connections with things and places and, above all, people that I’ve encountered. I’ve learned how to connect, how to interact, how to make familiar. How to make a home and a community. I didn’t set out to learn these things, but by being as open and authentic as I could be, which sometimes wasn’t very open or authentic at all, I came to realize that it was my willingness to interact, to engage, to be open, to be permeable, even when not all that successful, that allowed me to develop my community and my familiars, my family. It allowed me to belong.

By no means does this suggest that I never feel lonely or even homesick. I tend to experience things deeply and often struggle with feelings of isolation and alienation, especially on long plane journeys. For while I may selfishly bask in the love and attention shown by my familiars while we’re together, I’m the one who quickly uproots and takes off, while their lives continue, day after day, with or without me.

The lesson for me in all this is to never, ever take my family, my familiars, for granted, because they can and sometimes do disappear, quite suddenly and without warning. And this does mean focusing on the present moment, every moment, a herculean task to be sure.

The lesson I’m able to impart to others, though, is that homesickness, loneliness, unfamiliarity are not truly valid excuses for failing to travel. You travel and you become familiar. You engage and interact. You create community and you create home. It may not be where you expect or even hope, but with openness, with permeability, it will happen before you even realize it: you’ll belong.

And when you need to talk to your mama ‘nem…well, that’s what Skype and round-trip tickets are for.

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Do You Know What It Means to Miss São Paulo?

Sao Paulo by Gregoire Fossemalle via Flickr

São Paulo and I were together for two years. She was high-maintenance from the start; this, I knew going in. She would order the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes flirt with other guys, and make me pay dearly whenever I didn’t call at the exact time I said I would. She knew her worth and she played with my heart, but I knew deep down, she loved me: when we were in sync, when our energies mixed and we danced and played and reveled in each others’ company, we knew we had a good thing going. I won’t lie; the sex was volcanic. And be it in her brand new Mustang or her little red Corvette, we rode fast and wild, and I would always end up broke, spent, and sprung – she was The One.

But I couldn’t afford her and, one day, she let me go. And I was bitter for a while, heartbroken and rejected.

The next time we saw each other, a few weeks later, she welcomed me back to dance and play and revel. Over a cafezinho at Bella Paulista one Sunday morning, she looked at me and admitted that every once in a while, she envied what Berlin and I have because we were marrying for love. But in the very next moment, when I asked her to marry me, she just stared out the window and said nothing.

I paid for our coffees and we walked out into the bright sun, our feet hurting from the previous night’s debauchery and still a little lightheaded from the party favors. She kissed me deeply and passionately before getting into her car with a tchau, disconnecting and leaving me with only three reais to catch the bus home.

I see her less frequently these days, though our rendezvous are no less intense. Neither one of us has brought up the m-word again, especially since we’re each married to someone else.

But what if…?

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My friend and São Paulo-native Rodrigo Pitta loves that damn place so much, he’s filmed three music videos in his hometown. Here’s the newest. I’m already booking my flight back down to see her.

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Fly Favorites: June 2013

Image by James Estrin/The New York Times

                                     Image by James Estrin/The New York Times

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Malacca in Pictures

As evidenced by the Dutch-built Stadthuys, the over 230-year-old Hindu temple, and the Chinese-inflected Kampung Kling Mosque, Malaysia’s multicultural colonial port of Malacca has been fought over and ruled by a succession of Asian and European powers since it was first established over 600 years ago. Offering safe harbor during the ferocious monsoon season for trading ships threading between China and India—a virtual crossroads of the world—the city pulled in abundant riches and a pallet of cultures.

Tossed like a hot potato between the Malays, the Javanese, the Vietnamese, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English, Malacca is home to architecture, food, religion, music, and other traditions that reflect the various flags flown over the city, and which influence the dominant cultures (Malay, Chinese, Indian, mixes of the three) that populate it today. Malacca’s tangled history and relaxed, Caribbean-like atmosphere make it a popular stop on the backpacker trail, but there are still a few secluded corners that occasionally go tourist-free. Here are a few of Malacca’s beauty spots.

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Post It

I promise, yours'll be cooler than this.

When was the last time you got a postcard in the mail? You know, one of those rectangular snapshots of places and times that invariably tease you about not being there. I got one recently from fellow blogger and traveler extraordinaire Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View, who’d been hanging-ten in the lovely florid archipelago of Hawaii. Well, I think it’s time to help resurrect a tradition waning in the wake of social media. I’ll be doing some major traveling in the coming months—São Paulo, Madrid, Washington, Berlin, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Miami—so shoot me an email with your mailing address and I’ll shoot ya back with a postie par avion.

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Parabéns to Carnival Winners Mocidade Alegre + Unidos da Tijuca!

Image: Nacho Doce/Reuters

The 2012 Carnival season in Brazil has ended with a couple of surprising samba school parade winners in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of which sported themes from the country’s culture-rich, rain-poor, poverty-stricken Northeast.

Yesterday, Mocidade Alegre took the title at São Paulo’s Sambadrome with a theme honoring prolific Bahian author Jorge Amado and the mystical Afro-Brazilian world evoked in his novel Tent of Miracles. Xangô, the Yoruban deity of fire, opens the presentation with power and glory:

Click here to see photos and video of Mocidade Alegre’s first-place show!

Meanwhile, Unidos da Tijuca won first place in Rio’s Sambadrome today with an homage to popular folk musician and forró king Luiz Gonzaga. The acrobatic rainbow slinky represents the soul of the accordion, Gonzaga’s signature instrument. Very cool:
Click here to see photos and video of Unidos da Tijuca’s win!

Man, I love Carnival!

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Random Stills From a Day in the Life of a Gringo Paulista

Downtown 1

Downtown 2

Downtown 3 (yes, a panorama)

My neighborhood.

View from my desk.

The work hood…30 minutes away from my hood.

Getting fly.

My street.

The block is hot.

Gnite.

God, I love this city.

(From whence I took the title of this post.)

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Swiss Beat

Fly in the buttermilk.

The first thing you notice about Switzerland’s largest city – Zurich – is that, by comparison, every other city in the world looks worn-down and raggedy. The whole place smacks of affluence, from the clean comfort of the airport to the understated high-end street fashion (even old people rocked dark denim and leather jackets by somebody famous). In Zurich, they riyotch, beyotch.

Early industrialization and the development of banking services (a business not exactly pure as Alpine snow) helped the Swiss obtain one of the highest per capita standards of living in the world. Food and clothing in Zurich aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but public services and infrastructure are top-notch. I flew into a world-class airport on a world-class airline, hopped a train to the main station, where I met up with my CouchSurfing host (Björn – Swedish name, Swiss dude) for some lunch-time Thai, then took a sleek and efficient tram to within a block of his apartment.

Great Domes of Zurich

I rested a bit from the 12-hour flight until Björn got home from work and we hit the streets of Zurich just as the sun dipped behind the Alps to the west. We walked around the old town, and I marveled at how multicultural the place actually is (I encountered Brazilians, Eritreans, Sri Lankans…), in spite of murmurings about Swiss xenophobia. It was strangely comforting to be in a place surrounded so completely by mountains; I’d lived in Bogotá, which sits on a high plateau surrounded by the Andes, but with 8 million people, comforting is the last word I’d use to describe the Colombian capital.

Skyline at sunset.

Conversation took us past 900-year-old churches and 21st century electronics stores, then down towards Lake Zurich where we hopped aboard one of the water shuttles that augment the city’s transportation options.

Lake Zurrk

According to Björn, the whole city is walkable in about 45 minutes, and we seemed to be testing out that assessment. Finally, as the temperature dropped into the upper-40s, Björn broke out the fondue set and we had some traditional Swiss potatoes and cheese for dinner. So much for my no-carb vacation.

Downtown shopping alley. Expensive.

The next day? Cold, gray, and rainy: perfect weather for a museum visit! The castle-like Swiss National Museum – Landesmuseum Zürich in German – chronicles the history of Switzerland from the Stone Age to modern times, even mentioning the Swiss role as financiers of the slave trade (no pics allowed). I’m always shocked in European museums by the amount of guts and gore that appears in depictions of Christianity: severed heads and people nailed to crosses and whatnot. Victory over violence, my brethren! I was also mildly chided by the old lady taking tickets at the entrance to the museum’s World Wildlife Federation exhibition because, as an American, I’m in some way responsible for America’s lax environmental policies. I just let her talk, responding every now and then with a “Yes, ma’am.”

Landesmuseum Zürich, where they filmed 'The Haunting.'

Then, I shivered over to the nearby Museum of Design Zurich, mostly because I was sans-umbrella, and caught the temporary exhibition on skyscrapers (my favorite type of building). Photos, blueprints, and scale models of structures in major cities comprised the exhibition, and I took the opportunity to draw São Paulo’s Copan building in the guest book, since other people had drawn buildings in the guest book.

I took this picture on the low-low.

Soon, it was time to grab my onward flight to Berlin, departing from Zurich Airport’s über-chic “low-cost” terminal.

The hoodrat section of Zurich Airport.

Björn, thanks a lot for the Alpine hospitality! Zurich, you are small but sophisticated and your people are worldly and affable. I will be back!

Zurich's got "something for every taste."

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