A watch dog watching over the entire village of Corboin in Burgundy
The Importance Of Elsewhere by Philip Larkin
Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch
Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker's cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.
Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.
Thursday I was in sleepy river town of Moline, IL, home of tractor maker John Deere. Sunday I was navigating the massive airport and busy train stations of Paris, FR. Today I wander the narrow late medieval streets of Vosne Romanée and hold my breath as massive, modern wine-cultivating equipment creeps past my bedroom window with only centimeters to spare. Yes, it’s time to travel again.
I’m not a travel snob (I hope not), needing to notch my belt with 1000 places somebody says I must see before I die. I don’t look for the exotic – in my advanced age I like a bed to sleep on at night and food made from animals I can identify. I don’t even always need to go far or be gone for long. My heart dances, however, at the idea of Elsewhere.
Poet Philip Larkin understands the importance of elsewhere. There is a certain freedom in feeling out of place and a certain familiarity in feeling disoriented. “Strangeness made sense,” Larkin concludes. I travel usually sans the now ubiquitous GPS unit. Not that they’re not helpful, but I enjoy finding my way on instinct and a physical map. Traveling that way, to get lost just becomes an opportunity to know a new place better. Last summer for my trip between Dijon and La Roche-Posay I did have one. We were constantly arguing – the machine and I – about which was the more efficient route and which the more interesting. I voted for interesting every time and suffered the consequences. But the Loire Valley is now a part of me, the winding roads and the troglodyte houses that marked my path to the Vienne River.
It’s a bit harder to work up enthusiasm, however, for the Elsewheres of the mind and of my life. “These are my customs and establishments / It would be much more serious to refuse,” Larkin admits. Too often at home I let the routine of home crowd out an enthusiasm for what might be around the corner. I grow impatient with detours in my day. I don’t find the time for salsa dancing lessons. I hunt for the quickest line at the grocery store. I feel obligated to say yes when someone asks something of me, even if I had planned to spend that time reading or practicing French.
Navigating elsewhere empowers me to feel comfortable in the unfamiliar. I arrive someplace new and quickly feel at home and energized. At home, though, I often feel stuck and dragged down by routine. For the next month I’ll be elsewhere in place and in mind. Perhaps by the time I return I’ll have figured out how to keep traveling where I am. How to keep moving forward, detours and all, while staying put.
Where is your Elsewhere? What makes you feel comfortable or uncomfortable? Share your Elsewheres of the body or mind here.
A modern farmer uses the traditional techniques in the vineyards of Vosne Romanée, FR