Long time no see


I can tell we’re getting towards the end of our renovation because my thoughts are beginning to move overseas. While my main focus has been on the house, when I needed distraction then my thoughts would go elsewhere, often to far-off places. And now I want to follow them.

It’s been helped along by Instagram. Like enjoying the recent feed of a blogger buddy, Mel at www.francesays.com, as she travelled through Japan. It stirred so many agreeable memories and made me yearn to get back there. Despite the crush of its cities and with the rigour of its customs, Japan never ceases to stimulate and you come away full of thoughts and images. And desperate to find somewhere at home that makes a good okonomiyaki.

making okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

I’m eager to be back in Britain, too, although the shambles of its politics and the Brexit mess has made me more resolute than ever to embrace Australia as my home, especially now we have a more mature government. But I long to laugh with my sister and to catch up with her family and meet my nephew’s two year old son for the first time. I can’t wait to sit again with my best friend and chat deep into the night, sharing helpless laughter and intimate tears. And to see other cherished friends. As so many of us have found, keeping in touch through email or Zoom can be great but it’s not the same as being in the same room or dawdling along outside. Sharing the physical space allows the happenstance of casual comments rather than the usual recap of recent main events, which tends to be what happens in one-hour bursts on the phone. The insignificant little conversations are the stuff that binds us and they need topping up as often as possible.

I’m missing my architectural discoveries, too, especially if they involve favourite and familiar cities such as Paris or Singapore. Even when I think I know what I’m in for, there are surprises. I remember the special night we stayed at La Tourette, the friary designed by Le Corbusier, and then we explored the wonders of his planned town at Firminy the day after. I was left with so much to think about even though I’d studied the buildings in books often enough.

The refectory for guests at La Tourette

And it was exhilarating to at last walk the rooftop track of the old Fiat factory in Turin, so much better than I had imagined.

the old Fiat rooftop track

Finding the wealth of early modernist buildings in the centre of Montevideo, mostly intact and often quirkier than their counterparts in Europe or North America, was a revelation.

Montevideo streetscape

And then there’s the quiet pleasure of wandering through any number of temple compounds in Japan, the gentle way the craft of their wooden chambers and restrained ornamentation feeds the soul. The world offers so much.

temple at Miyajima

I remember how, as a child, I couldn’t believe the place where we had holidayed would go on the same when we left. The baker would still sing out to her customers, the beach bar would still serve orange Fanta in tall glasses, the passeggiata would continue each evening. All without me. My egocentricity might have diminished since then but I still feel the same childlike revelation each time I travel that the world is bigger than me.

Despite finding such fresh enjoyment in my own home, I’m eager to be that person again walking off the international flight, braced for a new adventure. I remember those first travels on my own. How, for instance, the smell of Italy would engulf me when I first stepped off a train or plane, with its blend of bitter coffee, sour drains and pungent cigarette smoke. It seemed to penetrate my skin and prepare me for the days to come, energising me with its foreignness. Every country is suffused by its own scent, pricking the senses, even when it’s the stale air of a British airport.

As your home holds you in its arms, travel pushes you into a void, which can be unsettling or even scary at times but always enticing and rewarding. You learn about not just new places but new aspects of yourself. Most of all it makes you feel alive.

With a new year coming up, it feels like time to plan. Time to be fed. Time to see again.

What are your travel plans for 2023?

Categories: Architecture, Design, memoir, Other, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 comments

  1. You have perfectly captured the wonderful dichotomy of travel. Having just returned home after a rich but nonetheless unsettling few weeks, my very first time in Asia, I am happily back in the arms of my Swiss home. Yet, how thrilled I was just a few weeks ago to leave it! Life is better with the yin and yang of comings and goings…and if you are starting to think about going away again, your reno project must be at a point where you will benefit from stepping away. Thanks for the mention, and also for providing a lot of inspiration for discovering Japan. Happy travels for 2023!

    • It truly is the cycle of yin and yang. I envy the simplicity of those who are perfectly happy staying at home, never going anywhere. And yet at the same time I am appalled and cannot imagine such a thing for me. I’m so looking forward to your reflections on Japan – I hadn’t realised it was your first to Asia. My first trip to Japan was before I went to China, which meant I especially appreciated the finesse and grace of Japanese everyday life when I went for the second time… Here’s to future travels!

      • Full disclosure: I am a reluctant traveller and hesitate to go too far from home for long periods. Yet, like you, I can’t imagine just staying put. Plus, there are so many places I’d love to visit in Asia and the Americas, not to mention Australia! Japan was certainly a revelation. Promise I will post about it soon!

  2. Happy travelling, Colin and congratulations on nearing the end of your renovation! Unlike you I have no desire to travel or plans to. Even getting on a train inside the UK is fraught at the moment because of strikes and our airports have been in a pretty bad state … I could go on!

    • I’m still wary of the actual travel component, not having been on a plane since before Covid, but I do yearn for a good destination! Whenever I do make it back to Blighty then I think I shall just close my eyes and go with the flow…

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