I just finished reading Craig Thompson’s “Carnet de Voyage”, his travelogue through Europe (with a detour to Morocco) in sketches, graphic novel format. In it he mentions how homesick he gets. In that vulnerable state of mind, and in being a solo traveler, it’s very easy to form intense intimate yet temporary attachments with people you meet along the way. When both parties know its temporary, you don’t have to waste time with the b-s preliminaries of feeling each other out for companionship. And when you hook up with friends you already know, it’s even sweeter. It reminded me of how I felt when I was traipsing through Europe one winter (with a north African detour also: Egypt). I had left Prague and was headed for Barcelona by train, almost at the other end of Europe. I was enjoying it, but I was also getting worn out by the solitude of my own company for a month.
I had to transfer trains in somewhere in Switzerland that wasn’t Zurich. Maybe it had been Bern. Walking through the station, I spied some phonebooks. “I wonder if I can look up Susan’s phone number?” Switzerland is a famously compact country, with a small population. The phonebooks in the station turned out to have national listings, and still smaller than a full set of Bay Area phone books. I found a listing for her in the Lausanne white pages, and rung up.
“Hi Susan. I’m on my way to Barcelona, but homesick. Can I come visit you for a couple of days?” was how I invited myself.
I really hadn’t seen much of Susan in the past ten years, maybe twice, at family weddings. We had both spent our childhood in Bangkok, but from there she moved west and I moved east. She had a very soft spot for dogs (I’ll have to write up a very funny anecdote about that sometime.)
Susan to her great credit welcomed with cousinly warmth. She even made fried rice, the first Chinese food I’d had in a month. Now that she was settled as a cozy hausfrau with a husband and daughter and their dog Mui-Mui, it was nice to have a wandering cousin bring a bit of the outside world to her doorstep. I think she enjoyed reminiscing and practice her rusting English. Plus I could update her on what had been happening with the rest of our kin, and it relieved my homesickness that I could talk to someone without having to explain the background context of things that I would have to for a stranger.