(Im)permanence: When I Travel

When I travel, and walk around a new city on my own, I’m reminded of that ephemeral world — where bustling streets, crowded plazas, and sidewalk cafes live. Where I sit with a pint of beer and scribble in a small notebook, my thoughts crystallizing into beliefs, into actions.

When I travel, my physical environment changes — it might be a beach on the Caribbean instead of a fortified medieval city, or Thai rather than Vietnamese overheard at a market. But the mental drift, the flow in and out of now, is the same — no matter where I am.

When I travel, I confront my past selves: the curious and idealistic, the wistful and unhappy versions of me. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to sit at a cafe alone, to contemplate and stare off into the distance. I flip through these versions in my mind — I think about the what ifs never acted upon, and those that became realities.

When I travel, I envision a loading bar — the same type of bar I see on my screen when I update software. I sit at a cafe and write in my notebook — places revisited in my memory, the bar loading slowly.

facade

* * *

Today, as I sit in a cafe in an alley in Valletta, I realize I am happy. The progress bar loaded; the screen did not freeze. As I hand-write, I glance at my gold wedding band on my finger and smile because I have my husband — my darling, my love — who I found, somehow, amidst all of this. All of this travel.

The street sounds, the crowds, the strangers you interact with on the road, abroad: these often dissolve when you travel. Some are mere props in an Inception-like sequence, conjured to bring us comfort in an unfamiliar place.

But, there was Nick. He existed first as a byline — and an avatar among many travel writer avatars — while our “friendship,” like many, was held loosely together by occasional tweets and Facebook comments. And yet in our first encounters — in San Francisco, in Las Vegas, in London, in Cairo — there was a permanence in his presence, even as our physical backdrops morphed and dissolved.

Our early encounters were always moments in between. He was visiting the US, en route to Europe. I was passing through England, after a trip to Germany. We had come together in Egypt, but uncertain of a shared future.

I’m reminded of all of this as I wander the streets of Valletta: crossing paths with strangers, feeling the city evaporate before me, taking pictures to have evidence that I was here, that these fleeting moments existed.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor and story wrangler, WordPress.com and Longreads. Not to be fed after midnight.

23 thoughts on “(Im)permanence: When I Travel

  1. “The street sounds, the crowds, the strangers you interact with on the road, abroad: these often dissolve when you travel.” Beautifully written what a traveler sees and not a tourist.Loved this post.

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  2. Great sentiments, your phrase about meeting in the places “in between” makes me think if the concept of “liminality”. I’ve always thought that word was a great way to describe the experience of traveling in general, seems like you feel the same way.

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  3. The transition gives space for the mind to feel grounded, it is something I have experienced too. Esp. while travelling on long train journeys, the landscape changes all the time, yet the mind feels quite and content. Travelling also brings a sense of humility in me, humbled by the different lives that cross my path…

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  4. It’s funny. You say that when you travel, you confront your past selves. For me… it’s one of the times when I can most clearly access my present self. When I’m home, amidst my normal day to day… I’m constantly grasping at my past selves and my future self. Sinking into the present is one of my biggest challenges recently. But when I travel, especially in a foreign country, everything falls away except what IS. All my previous intuitions and conflicts converge into who I am now, what I see now and what I feel and smell. It’s intoxicating in an incredibly grounding yet freeing way.
    And see now… the catapult into longing begins 😉

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  5. I love the last line you wrote: ‘crossing paths with strangers, feeling the city evaporate before me, taking pictures to have evidence that I was here, that these fleeting moments existed.’ Absolutely beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love how you evoke the sense of fleeting permanence that’s sometimes involved in travel; the way in which unfamiliar surroundings can somehow help you anchor yourself in space physically while drifting mentally, but how later, everything dissolves, as if it were a dream.

    I think I got a speck of dust in both my contact lenses at this point, though: “Today, as I sit in a cafe in an alley in Valletta, I realize I am happy. The progress bar loaded; the screen did not freeze.”

    xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love how you describe your growing relationship with your husband. From a byline to an avatar, to a tweet to a Facebook comment…sensing ‘the space between’ needed to morph into mutually filled space, then, permanence. In my courtship days reaching the hand-holding stage was epic. :o)

    I really love how you have created the cafe ambiance that has been a classic throughout time; the curious, wistful, contemplative traveler who sits alone, thinking; (I picture a demitasse cup in front of you!) finally feeling at home in her own skin, wherever the current resting place. The good thing about happiness is that it never replaces the curious, wistful, questioning moments—it just enriches them. Lovely post.

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  8. What a wonderful post, Cheri. I have developed “relationships” with people through blogging and have often questioned whether they are real relationships. Are they really the people they seem to be on their blog and when they visit mine? What do they see of me in my blog that keeps bringing them back with comments left as evidence? I really enjoyed reading about your experience, as you shared the importance of this relationship within the life you have chosen to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love reading your posts simply because they remind me of the connection between the words “writing” and “eloquence”, a connection that is so often lost in a world that now moves so fast that it’s often considered a sin to actually sit “and stare off into the distance”. You keep it up, and I’ll keep reading. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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