Photo courtesy of Bobby Hidy.
Written by Matthew Waters
Everywhere is insufferable sometimes. New York City is often associated with escape, a beckoning destination. People pen personal stories of the city from the world over about beginning anew, falling in love, or disappearing into the masses, often all at the same time. Variety abounds as the scenery shifts from the concrete walls of Manhattan to the corn stalks upstate; from the abundant and indifferent open space of the suburbs to the cramped confines of crumbling apartment complexes. The variety of location practically mirrors the diversity of the citizenry. Not everyone has a choice of where they live or when they can leave. The fortunate who are able to plan temporary escapes are also afforded an ironic opportunity, free to assess New York and observe that, yes, everywhere is insufferable sometimes, especially here.
Yet can ‘traveling’ be easily defined? The steps we take in life are uniquely personal. Many people go their entire lives without significantly investigating the realm beyond neighborhood sprawls. It may be easy to assume a wide horizon equals openness and understanding, but traveling is not necessarily dependent on conquering distances.
In the case of Andres Torres, an assistant attorney and filmmaker, traveling is a function of the body and mind.
“I’ve hitchhiked through many cities and towns across America, climbed down the Grand Canyon, cruised to the many islands of the Caribbean, spent nights in the Amazon with the Secoya of Ecuador, climbed a Mayan pyramid in Mexico, visited a monastery in the Himalayas, and walked through what was once the glorious Roman Empire,” says Torres. “But none of these experiences come close to the grandest of all experiences – inner travel. The journey to one’s inner paradise is the most pleasant and purposeful.”
The well-traveled professional believes that that the real island of paradise is within, going as far as to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson’s passage on the subject in Self Reliance. Further, Torres believes that traveling these days is atrociously overrated, now degraded to a bragging right for the affluent or merely fortunate. Yet despite his vast experience exploring the world, Torres suggests that diving into the interior provides even more of a chance for discovery. The destination pales to the mind taking flight.
“Sure, I could understand if one’s travel exploits are for gaining a deeper knowledge of a particular culture or history,” Torres says. “But even then, after experiencing places of historical significance, I could honestly sit here and say that, although standing amongst Mayan ruins deepened my interest in this ancient culture and people, still it felt like being anywhere else. My travels across the world have not redefined my definition of home, but rather reaffirmed that I never really left home.”
“I honestly feel more at home sleeping on a couch than sleeping on a bed,” says Brendan Wolf, New York City teaching fellow and traveling poet. Wolf helms a poetry workshop atop the roof of 13 Bar in Manhattan on Monday evenings. His affection for the restlessness of sleeping on couches has led him as far as swapping his bed for a futon entirely. Such a preference for a traveling frame of mind even while home may reveal an interesting aspect of the artistic consciousness. To create, an artist must pin down his attention toward a singular goal. Details may be observed, but the destination of a story, or intended impact of a painting or song, is often decided before the journey begins. Traveling is similar. Along the way, we may become fascinated by a view, gazing out a window, but our intended destination doesn’t change.
Drifting and traveling are not the same, and films, for instance, are often criticized for meandering plots. Having a clear destination could stir the spirit. It was Marmeladov who said in Crime and Punishment, “For every man must have somewhere to go.” Sure, Marmeladov may have been drunk when channeling his muses, but he usually had a point.
“I do my best thinking in motion,” Wolf continues. “I go from city to city. That’s when I feel most alive, that’s when I feel most at home.”
Paul and John Passaro are brothers, musical ones, at that. They perform regularly at a monthly cultural gathering called Sin Rostro, which takes place at The Beauty Bar, also in Manhattan. The event is organized by Macaulay Honors College and Hunter University graduate Fanny Wu, and features an open mic. Paul and John were willing to share their viewpoints on traveling after the show.
“I feel like I travel more than my peers. I like to cow-trap. I’ve gone all up New England and not known where I was going to sleep the next day,’’ says Paul.
“I know people in different places [who say] ‘This person’s willing to drive me 20 minutes to the next guy’s house… So let’s do it!’ And that really affected how I looked at the world,” he continues. “In the city you can always get back. But when you’re out in West Massachusetts, [and] there’s miles of farm, and the walk to the closest town is an hour and half… You’re at the end of the day and that hour and half walk is not worth it. You start making calls to everyone you know, seeing whose around.”
Paul touches upon one of the essential truths of travel. Abandoning the home can cause one to appreciate what had been left behind. Without the experience to make comparisons, do we truly appreciate what we have?
His brother John speaks on a similar train of thought.
“I went to a super touristy island in the Virgin Islands – I went to several of the Virgin Islands – and I was just struck by how the people were [extraordinarily] poor, and were so dependent on tourist dollars and catering to our weird whims,” he said.
Departures, even those temporary, may spur one to appreciate the consistency of home, instead of dreading it. “So I had a massive case of ‘holy crap, I am privileged,” says John. “You can call it ‘Thank God I’m privileged,’ if you want an editorial.”
Paul brought it all back home. “Seeing the differences is important to have well-rounded view of the world,” he concluded. “Between the places I’ve been, none of them have really made as much sense as New York, in terms of the infrastructure, and the public transportation… The place just makes sense. And that is an insight I gained, compared from being [here] to elsewhere.”
Editor’s Note – June 21, 2012: Originally, this article read that Fanny Wu was only a Hunter University graduate, not specifying that she was also a graduate of Macaulay Honors College as well. It has since been corrected.