A bend in the road ahead

Posted: April 16, 2008 in Blog

Writing here while aboard a ferry between the Netherlands and the U.K., I had hoped to write a fair bit on this site during my month in Europe. At that point, it had been mere hours since I’d left Uganda and the road ahead was one I was excited about documenting.

Well, I’ve been documenting it. But as you can see, I haven’t been documenting it here. Instead of looking back on a wealth of posts from some of the seven countries I’ve visited in the last four weeks, I see only that post fresh from Uganda and only one more written hastily in London– neither of which illustrate what I’ve done, seen, thought or felt over the past month.

And so I’m left here sitting at a kitchen table in Stockholm surrounded by the remnants of one last dinner party and the glow of a light that turns the window beside me into a mirror that mimics my every movement.

It has been a wonderful month of seeing new places, revisiting friends new and old and thinking of the road ahead while digesting the past nine months.  In the U.K. I stayed mostly with friends from Canada who live in and around London. I had initially meant to stay only a few days, but ended up being there for two weeks. It was fun having that time to properly visit with people, to see sites and also to plan the rest of the trip since I’d found myself too caught up in day-to-day life in Uganda to plan the Europe travels from there. I explored London, went south to Dover and across to northern France and then up north of London to see friends there. Later, a few of us went to Stonehenge and the town of Bath, both of which are beautiful and highly recommended if you’ve never been.

Then it was on to Austria, which was a five-day whirlwind experience that was in many ways the highlight of the trip. It was a chance to see things I’d only ever heard about and to take a train into the Alps and see the spectacular sights there. From there, it was on to Slovakia for a short stay before flying up to Sweden where I am now. Tomorrow I fly to Amsterdam before leaving for Canadian soil. It will be nice to be home.

Each leg of the journey was memorable for different reasons. But a common thread wove its way through each city and country. Along the way, I was meeting up with Canadians living abroad and friends I’d met in Uganda who have since returned to their home countries or, in one instance, distant relatives I’d never before met. Sitting in their living rooms and kitchens, we often talked long into the night about journeys taken and those yearned for.

Amidst those I met in Uganda who have since returned home, I often found myself surrounded by mementos of their trips– flags on the wall, pictures in frames, tins on shelves. Or more subtle, like the Luganda grammar book on the shelf, or the scarf hanging by the door that is unmistakably East African.

These are tangible signs of the less-than-tangible elements that linger long after the last suitcase is emptied– in the way stories are told or the smile that’s just a bit bigger, just a bit more sly,  when a journey taken comes into conversation. These conversations take place long after the detriment– the blown travel budgets, the missed flights, any language difficulties– has been sifted out so what remains is warm memories, the recalling of which is powerful enough to put a spring in your step.

In Austria, the wonderful couple I stayed with told me of a long-ago trip to Canada, where they saw more of Canada than many Canadians themselves ever see. “You come home from a trip like that, and you look around at your old life and you don’t feel too excited,” one of them said as we sipped wine in a chalet on the hills overlooking Vienna.

I looked around at their “old life”– in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities you could hope to set eyes on, and their home that backs onto the forest on the fringes of the city– and thought that as far as “old” lives went, this one didn’t look so bad. But it was a reminder that what is old to others is new to me, and vice-versa. It was also a reminder of how little we sometimes explore the familiar territory that surrounds us. It can take a fresh pair of eyes to remind us of the beauty, the richness, that so often surrounds us. All too often, that beauty keeps quiet while we rush to and from work and practice and errands, focusing on the mundane instead of thinking of how many people yearn to see what we may see every day on the way to work.

Here in Stockholm, a friend took me on a tour of the city’s old town. “You know I haven’t seen any of this in ages, it’s fun,” she said as we wound our way along narrow cobblestone streets, later standing on the palace steps where we stood silently for a spell, just watching the sun set. I loved every moment of it. And it reminded me: when I was living in Toronto, why didn’t I spend more time in High Park? Why didn’t I ever bike down to the lake shore bridge separating Toronto from Etobicoke just to see what the sunset looked like from there? Who knows, maybe it would be nice. When I was living in Ottawa, I could have ended each day with a walk behind Parliament Hill to see the sun disappear and, in the Fall, to see colours creep into the leaves on the Gatineau Hills; Living on Vancouver Island, not once did I get up on a Saturday morning and take the ferry to Salt Spring Island to check out the market there; How could I have gone so long between visits to Algonquin Park when I was growing up?

Those are all things someone visiting for the first time would likely take pictures of, and tell stories about when they went home. Just like how in so many places on this Europe trip, I gathered pictures and stories in places that were everyday sights to the throngs who passed me on their way to or from appointments as I stood slack-jawed gazing at a beautiful building or standing on a street trying to imagine what it looked like during the war.

What am I trying to say? That the line between adventure and everyday may be fuzzier than many of us realize, and it’s those who find a way to stay in the middle who are the lucky ones.

What I’m also trying to say, more to reassure myself than anything, is that when I get on the plane back to Canada it will hopefully not be the full-stop end to one adventure but instead a semi-colon that, as the late U.S. doctor Lewis Thomas said, is a wooden bench at the bend in the road ahead, where you can sit for a moment to catch your breath.

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Comments
  1. Jen says:

    Looking forward to seeing you, Chris.

  2. Joe Boughner says:

    Chris, Canada will be glad to have you back. Come visit me and Amy and I promise we’ll go exploring. Opeongo Part II perhaps?

  3. Matt S. says:

    Great post, Mase! Looking forward to seeing you as well.

  4. Emily T. says:

    Your writing is so beautiful – I actually just read this 3 times… repeating aloud some of my favourite bits – which is something I haven’t done since OAC English, sadly, and something that reminds me of Munce…. and how proud he would be -and surely Raisbeck is- to call you his one-time student. You have also become the King of quotations in my book…. always so perfectly placed…….. I’m just glad I still have your signature (albeit on a congratulatory note for attending writers’ class for two days in a row:S) so when you win the Pulitzer I can sell it on Ebay……. 😉
    If you ever feel like company while checking out the sunset from behind Parliament, just let me know… I work right across the road and am pretty game anytime… welcome back home.

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