From my office window here at the jail, I can see an American flag fluttering in the breeze, just beyond the razor wire and the gray concrete of the administration building. The sky is pale blue, like it is on a sweltering day in summer: cloudless, hot, drained of color. Today, there is a breeze, and the flag waves at me–or is it taunting me–stuck here as I am for 10 more intolerable minutes.
In a few short days, Amsterdam has become a fading memory. Maybe once I get my Super 8 film back, I can wander once more past the canals and the maniac bikers. More and more, visiting another country or culture seems almost worthless unless you can really join in, become immersed, dwell with the natives. One week is so superficial and cursory, a collection of sights and itineraries and acclimation. I am always left wanting more. Maybe traveling this way isn’t entirely worthless, though, since I still feel my soul stretched a bit. Only a bit, like running once a month–you get the soreness and pain but little of the benefit.
That said, travel is essential, even a short, week-long jaunt. My first overseas trip to Turkey changed me irrevocably, and every trip I have taken since then has been deliciously rewarding. Once you venture beyond the familiar grid of your culture, you lose your bearings, as well as the person you thought you were. Which can be terrifying, like a Paul Bowles story, or liberating. Like some other kind of story.
I am giving Nina Simone a ride home today, so I must close. She is bellowing at me in French, and though I don’t understand, the scowl on her jowly face suggests she is very much ready to leave.