You don’t need to be the hypocrisy police or a fierce social critic like Thomas Frank to see that world travel, in the wrong hands, starts to look rather like the new trophy collection. Going to all the right places means probing ever deeper for the last few remaining scraps of earth unspoiled by our culture. There are books about the imperialism of experience. You can just imagine what they say: This age of hyper-documentation and the collection of life points has insidiously productized experience, and virtuous, horizon-expanding travel is an especially fraught Western vanity.
When I was younger, I really enjoyed travelling. I wasn’t voracious. I wasn’t always in between big trips. I didn’t throw myself way, way out there and find my way back, and I still preferred home and my creative projects to just about anything at the end of the day. But I liked travel, and the handful of big adventures I had logged were probably overtaxed in my case for being “someone” who had “done a few things.”
Parenthood tightened the radius, of course, as did a slippery personal economy, and then that slid naturally into these years, my years as primary caretaker of an elderly parent, a more comprehensive and effective travel ban than any enforced in response to Covid. Luckily, a couple of the last few road trips I was able to undertake were as a touring musician, a little ego prop for the really dark days, when they befall.
But I miss travel more now than ever. I want to get back to Europe (was last there in August 1989). I hunger for the remote and the isolated. Cities always make me feel like part of something. Different brands of gas station are inherently exciting. I hunger for a routinely expanded sense of life boundaries and some spontaneous latitude. Even just more New England would be a nice start.
Last year, my wife and snuck away for two plus days in July. That, my friends, was a fairly big feat. We did four things:
1) Tried, and failed, to find a good meal anywhere in the Berkshires. Next time we’ll ask your advice.
2) Took a couple of nice hikes, the crowning one at Mount Greylock State Reservation.
3) Literally stumbled into one of America’s premier living composers, John Harbison, conducting five extraordinary Bach cantatas at Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, the best-sounding big room I’ve ever been in. That was a life highlight, not a 2019 highlight.
4) Saw a cool production of Twelfth Night at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, set in a very musical 1950s America and with a racially diverse cast.
That was almost exactly a year ago. This year Tanglewood’s festival is online, to the thrill of no one. Shakespeare and Company’s season is postponed, like every other theatrical season everywhere. It really doesn’t matter that we can’t find a good restaurant ‘cause we couldn’t go in anyway. And everyone — everyone — is on the damn trail.
You get the picture. It’s a small, small world after all.