Since I was a child I have been susceptible to the seductions of travel. I remember sitting on a pouffe smelling of the bazaars of India, listening to my uncle telling of tiger shoots and supper with the Maharajah, while my aunt, in the kitchen prepared curried kidneys for supper. I ate them in a state of bliss. I was hooked at an early age, for these spicy narratives all led, whether I knew it then or not, to the sea.
Since we wandered beyond the range of our firelight, we have lost something and are impelled one way or another to go looking for it. In search of the thing that we left behind so long ago, we move along a road that, like a poem or a song ,will lead us to that which we hear only as an echo. The sea is that part of us that is eternal.
On this road, never arriving, we shake off our restlessness. I have been a nomad all my life, travelling light. A sack, a stick, a hat maybe, my ideal mode of travel, though I have rarely managed that. I am now, as always, singing my way to the sea. The song is my map. I am still singing it though I have noticed that my travels no longer take me to foreign parts, even when I travel. Nowadays I stay closer to home and travel in my mind. The world has become too crowded and blurred. Magic is more in my memory than out there for the getting. I recall the sensory impact of Florence on my twenty year old self every time I experience the combination of basil and tomatoes, with a power that often brings tears to my eyes. I remember the fear trickling down my chest as war guns followed my car along jungle roads. I remember lying across the front seat of my car, sure that this time I’d taken a risk too many and was going to die. I remember sunrises and sunsets in places so sacred that they stilled cicadas into silence. Now I rest in my place of return and remember. Is that sad? I don’t think so.
If I am lucky I have twenty brief years of pleasure and vitality before I do what Aunty Mu has done and retreat behind the walls of home. I don’t want to suggest that I’ve done that already but the great outward travelling is possibly over for me. It is hard work, uncomfortable and dangerous to go where I have so often been and I am glad that what I have done is in the past.
Bruce Chatwin said that a nomad needs a place of return, a cache for treasures to mull over and touch. We are after all human; tellers of what we are; afraid of the shadows and as such we need a pot hidden deep in the sand. On our return we fall on our knees and dig. This is where I am at the moment. On my knees and digging.
But who’s to say that this isn’t a phase and that next week, next month or next year I wont find myself on a ricketty old train once more looking down into a horrifying gash in the earth and feeling the adrenaline rushing in my ears; wondering what on earth possessed me to do it again.
Or maybe I will find my cabin by the shore, white to catch the light, surrounded by the dun and sepia of pebbles and sand; where I will walk miles to beachcomb and bring my trawl and lay it on a mattress on the floor. On the kitchen shelf a kettle and a saucepan will sit shining with attention. Here in this place is all I need to eat and drink and look at. My soul is one with space and simplicity and the salt and sand will heal the erosion of time. Here I will sing my song in tune with time and the elements. But the world, not seeing the beauty, will speak of the mad woman on the beach.