Like most people with disabilities who find that their lives are not circumscribed by their physical bodies I discover myself itching every now and then to just go somewhere for the sheer hell of it. Its as though one of William Blake’s babyhood angels touches me: invisible fingers stroke my hair and I decide for no apparent reason to hit the road. I went once to the Aland islands midway between Finland and Sweden in just this way. I went with only a small rucksack filled with books and a guitar slung over my shoulder.
The next thing I knew I was sitting beside a Viking grave and singing Jim Morrison songs and a little ditty by Federico Garcia Lorca and I was splendidly alone. For me “getting away” has something to do with this desire to be by myself.
I’ve been giving this some thought because Lance Mannion has a superb post about Paul Theroux and travel writing and Lance makes some important points and one of them is that Paul Theroux didn’t do all that travelling to widen his character, he did it because his character was already opened and the art of travel has then to do with discernments both about others and about the self–what we really can call apprehensions of culture which always depend on opposition and similitudes. I am like this and not like that; I am furthered by this experience and not that one.
Traveling I learn that I’m at my best when alone. Sighted people say things to me like: “How can you bear being by yourself when you can’t see so good?” To this my answer is invariably: “Why is the joy of being a bit lost any different for the blind?” People are afraid to travel with no itinerary and they don’t like to lose their ways. I like both of these things and as I’ve mentioned already I like being solo.
Here is a poem from my book in progress “Mornings with Borges” that I think captures something of this attraction for solitary disorientation.
Invisible Cities, Redux
Italo Calvino has invisible cities and I recommend them. What could be better than traveling the universe and finding extraterrestrial versions of Venice?
I go out in the early morning rain in Galway, Ireland and tap the cobblestones with my white stick.
Immediately I get lost.
On my left there is a river.
On my right there is a window shutter making a kind of funereal percussion.
“Songs of the Earth,” I think.
I am not unique.
I stand beneath the shutter and weep.
I love this world.
I am alone in a new city.
if I died here beside the river and the window maybe everything I’ve known would make sense in the gray of an Irish minute.
“Good-bye to the peregrine falcons,” I think.
Good-bye to the glass of water that contains a single day lily.
Farewell to Mahler on the radio late at night.
Don’t get me wrong.
I get lost in cities every week.
I have learned much by following, blindly, the whims of architects.
I like to think that being lost is what calls forward the material that’s in my subconscious: Mahler on the radio; peregrine falcons; a day lily; and weren’t these things always there and weren’t they waiting for me to feel sufficiently delicate to hear them?