After two months of travel, you’d think I’d long for home.

Yes.  And no.

Home, I think, is the place where we feel most fully ourselves.  Or at least that’s the concept of home which we idealize whether that encompasses the geography, the culture, and the people of a specific place.  More accurately, it likely encompasses all of these elements and more.

Vancouver’s been my home since I was twelve and the more I travel, the more I appreciate how lucky I am to have lived most of my life here.  Not only is it blessed with a temperate climate – I’ve missed most of this dismal summer according to the reports I’ve received – but our setting, encircled by mountains and ocean is brilliantly uplifting.

We have greenery, we have space, we have clean air to breathe – in general – and we have clear water to drink. We have a diversity of cultures that makes you feel part of the world at the same time that you feel free to be yourself.

And yet, when I travel, I wonder if I have found my home. Is the appeal of the away for me simply the distance from the inertia and demands of day-to-day life as a mother, a student, a teacher, a homemaker, an elected official? Or is there a deeper resonance in Europe to who I am as an individual?  Is what I feel simply an echo of what everyone else feels when they travel or is this a particular issue for me?

And while this may seem to you to be no more than navel-gazing, it is potentially the theme of what I will be proposing for the MA thesis which I’m scheduled to begin this September.

Paris - Reema Faris

The first trip I took on my own was in 1983 to Greece following the completion of my BA degree at UBC.  This current expedition, which is scheduled to wrap up in four days, represents another installment in a three-decade serial of travel experiences.  Trips I’ve taken on my own, with friends, with family, as a single, as one of a couple, as a mother and an aunt.  From my early twenties till now. 

 That’s a lot of territory to cover both in terms of chronology and experience as well as personal growth and development.

I don’t know if travel has made me a better person, a different person, a less-rooted person, or if its simply been a privilege to be away.  Fun, interesting, exciting, but fleeting with no lasting effect aside from leaving me with a lifetime of memories and stories with which to bore my acquaintances and relatives.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to answer that although I think it’s likely, at some point, that I will live abroad for an extended time in order to explore these questions further and maybe develop a more secure sense of who I am and my place in the world.

A place I might call home which, in the end, may not prove to be geographic at all but really just a state of mind.

According to the Austrian Airlines magazine, the flight time from Vienna to Lyon is one hour and thirty-five minutes.  It took us six hours to cover the distance.

Why?

You may or may not be familiar with the term shadow work, but it’s described in this New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/our-unpaid-extra-shadow-work.html?pagewanted=all). One area in which many of us have taken on the tasks we used to entrust to others is travel planning.  We search the web for the best deals, we read sites dedicated to sharing travel tips, we peruse blogs, we devour newspaper and magazine articles, and we imagine that we can do better than the professionals.  

Travels with Reema - Reema Faris

In preparing for my trip this summer, I did the same.  I spent hours and made my own reservations whether with airlines and hotels directly or through travel sites.  I was certain that I would be able to find a direct flight from either Vienna or Budapest directly to Lyon.  I only needed to fly the one way and try as I might and despite time spent searching, the only direct flights I could find for the three of us were ridiculously expensive.

Given the prevailing wisdom that I should be able to do this on my own, I did not check with a travel agency nor with a travel agent.  Somehow we seem to think we’ll be able to unearth the best deals ourselves although I find that feeling elusive. 

At the point at which I thought I would throw my computer out the window, I checked Orbitz.  Although I’d never used the service before, I thought I’d take a chance and booked the flights I found.  From Vienna to Berlin, Berlin to Lyon with a couple hours at the airport and a very early departure time. 

The pain of a 4:45 a.m. wake up call was eased by the efficiently generous staff at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Vienna, who prepared a light breakfast for us despite the early hour, and the ability to check our bags straight through. Our flight, booked on Lufthansa but operated by a partner airline, landed at Tegel Airport in Berlin – a change which I’d been notified of by Orbitz – on time and we looked around for a spot to hang out until it was time to fly again.

Having bought some refreshments, I was complaining about the prices charged when a woman at a neighbouring table spoke up in English about the cost of food for captive transfer passengers.

A conversation broke out with a fellow traveller, a Canadian from Winnipeg, who shared the story of her travels and journey with us.  The time, to use a cliché, flew by and before I knew it we were on the final leg of the journey.

That zig-zag, that diversion, made the ridiculous plan I’d hatched worth it.  It was a connection, a human connection which emphasized why I hope no matter how much shadow work we unknowingly take on, we’ll never lose the skill of talking with one another.

When Shelley was in Byron’s company, he seemed to stop writing.  Why?  We can only speculate, but I think it’s partly because Byron’s larger-than-life persona and success as a published poet made Shelley feel small.  That collapse into one’s self is not conducive to imaginative flights of fancy and surrendering to the creative spirit.

I’m using that as an analogy for what Rome has done to me and to explain my lack of productivity while here in the Eternal City.

For those of you who are friends on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (@rmfaris), you’ll know that I’ve been in Italy since late May.  The first four weeks of my time here was as a registered student in LS 819 – “Landscape, Politics, and Poetry:  English Romantics in Italy”, a travel study course offered by Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) Department.  Our reading list included Rousseau, Goethe, and biographies of the poets, but the main focus was the work of Byron and Shelley.

We followed in the footsteps of these two poets, who spent their last years in Italy, by visiting cities they had lived in and enjoyed such as Venice, Florence, Pisa, Bagni de Lucca, Ravenna, and — of course — Rome where our course ended.  We also veered off the path to visit cities such as Orvieto, Arezzo, and Assisi as well as many other wonderful Tuscan and Umbrian destinations.

While my colleagues in this adventure have returned home, I lingered in Rome and have now transitioned into summer holidays.  I’ll be joined by family members tomorrow and we’ll be spending more time exploring this part of the world.

Reema Faris - The Eternal City

Rome is brash, bold, loud, chaotic, teeming with tourists, densely populated, hotter than Hades, ancient, new, crumbling, emergent, fascinating, intimidating, layered, in your face, colourful, irreverent, faith-based, and intriguing.

Being here brings you face-to-face, more so than in Vancouver, with issues of faith and belief.  This connects to one of the themes which has occupied my interest since becoming a GLS student in 2010.  Because the GLS program is largely focused on Western Civilization, you cannot avoid dealing with faith, religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church because of the dominant position the Church has held in the evolution of the West – culturally, artistically, politically, and socially.

My studies, interestingly enough, have led me towards a greater tolerance and emerging personal understanding of religion and the positive aspects it may offer to believers. I still feel conflicted though because I cannot accept the point at which religion devolves into an exclusionary ideology of “I have the answer, I am right, you don’t believe as I do, therefore you are wrong and evil” which I believe underlies the negative consequences of the implementation and practice of religion through the ages.

In Rome, religion is everywhere you look, it is embedded – I believe – in the very DNA of the city and its citizens.  And while I may feel awed stepping into the hushed cavern of yet another spectacular building dedicated to celebrating this faith, I feel bewildered at policies which in this modern age demand celibacy of its “managers”, sanction against contraceptives, and demonize homosexuality.

And while I embrace complexity in life, I wish the path to understanding eternity in the Eternal City was not so convoluted and confusing.