A Nice Place to Visit? Or is This Your Home?
"You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way again."
- Azar Nafisi
As my son and I travel to different locations, I find it interesting to notice how places feel. Travel is about so much more than seeing a city or a famous landmark. Seeing is a vital part of a larger experience, but it is not the whole of it. Just as important is how a place feels.
There is, of course, the first impression, the moment of arrival. I don't literally ask myself these questions, but I take notice of the answers. Do I feel comfortable here? How does the atmosphere feel? Are the people welcoming and interested in engaging or do they avoid connection? How does the air feel in my lungs; is it freeing and light, or heavy? How does the overall energy feel? Communities have a collective feeling to them in addition to individuals you may encounter.
We have visited places that were lovely, and I'm glad we experienced them but that was the extent of it, and I felt no burning desire to return. The visit was enough. There have been other places where I felt like I already lived there. I felt at home, easy in my soul, and deeply familiar with the surroundings. I recognized it.
We left Edinburgh a few days ago. I've always wanted to visit Scotland, and I chose Edinburgh because I was curious to see it but, mostly, because we needed to be in a city for a while to avoid rental car expenses. After an extended visit to Ireland where a car is required, my finances needed a break by being in a city where we could walk to everything. Of the towns available, I felt like seeing Edinburgh for no reason that was apparent to myself, no reason I could give you that would make any sense. I can only say that I was more interested in it than Glasgow and I couldn't afford to go to London. Edinburgh just sounded good to me. I felt a mild draw to it, but it didn't seem like a major thing, so I was very surprised by my love-at-first-sight, love-at-first-breath, feeling about it.
From the airport, we took the tram to the stop closest to the apartment we had rented. The moment we stepped off the tram and began walking down the street, I noticed that it felt good there. The very air felt smooth in my lungs, and the energy felt soothing to my cells. The first thought that passed through me was, "Wow, I could live here." Just as I was noticing this, my son looked over at me and said, "Wow, it feels good here. I could live here." All this in less than half a block. Did that feeling change after staying there for a while? No. Not at all. We both felt deeply comfortable there as though we were residents, not visitors.
Edinburgh is not the only place where we've had these same feelings, but we certainly don't feel them everywhere we go. We have never regretted visiting any place that we've been. We learn a lot, and see and experience beautiful things and sometimes experience not-so-beautiful things. Many places are lovely, but do not feel like home. The places that do are the ones we find difficult to leave and we desire to return to them again, maybe even live there. These places were in our DNA even before we arrived; we just didn't know it yet.
I share this to offer you the possibility of thinking of travel as experiencing things with all your senses. There will be places where you feel you belong and places where you don't. That is okay, and it's great information to have. It reminds me of a quote that I love by Roman Payne, "Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might be a mutual love, or dislike, friendship, or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality. Only through travel can we know where we belong or not, where we are loved and where we are rejected."
Azar Nafisi (quoted above) is an Iranian writer, best known for Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and won diverse literary awards. She is also a Visiting Professor and the Executive Director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. A fascinating person, please click on the link on her name to know more about her.