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.
* * *
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.