Sweat & Stone
If you’ve visited Rome in June, you will know that when you sweat, the city sweats with you.
You can travel with an objective of relaxing, exploring, learning, teaching, eating… but if you subtract everything you expect a place to be and simply go to receive, the spirit of the place becomes apparent before anything else. I think the visceral outcome of travel on the human psyche is contingent on one's preparedness: not in how many pairs of socks you brought with you or knowing where you can find wifi, but the mental preparation you have done before landing somewhere new.
For me, the rhythm of travel established itself after a few weeks on the road in the form of ritual: pack up, eat quickly, plan routes, cache what I did yesterday, and move on. The ritual also became a mental exercise in becoming wondrously attached to a place, then reluctantly severing it from my awareness. Despite being severely hungover on many mornings, it was a necessary ritual to make sure I wouldn’t miss trains, and in retrospect, the repetition of the ritual taught me the virtue of sacrifice. Despite being well-informed about how to get around, where to stay, how to interact with locals… to get the most out of the day, it's important to wake up feeling renewed.
Upon returning from a foreign place, people commonly say that it was "indescribable”. That is to say, it was so incorporeally informative to the soul that the whole experience reaches beyond linguistic description. Perhaps a shared value that travellers have is this sought-out unfamiliar: there is meaning to be found in the indescribable. When you willingly walk into the unknown with no other goal than to see who you are on the other side, you adopt a distinct quality of openness that isn't easily forgettable.
During the final days that I spent by myself in Rome, an acute sense of melancholy inhabited my being.
At first I thought it was just the expected sadness, the knowledge that I was nearing the end of my journey. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that the sadness had come from outside myself, that the stone towering above and holding firm beneath my feet had placed a small, heavy wisdom on my soul.
This discerning feeling dawned on me... every new sensation I had felt, every new axiom of wonder, every fresh step I took where I had not stepped before, had likely been perceived, awed, and stepped by thousands of other someones before me. Some entity of stone, sweat, and time had added a brick to my backpack. Ancient cities like these are steeped in secular historical richness, but more than that, the cities are utterly soaked in memory - far more memory than one city can retain, and thus imparted this small heavy wisdom onto unsuspecting travellers (me), lest it collapse under the weight of everything it had seen.
How likely could it be that the city had not been witness to the complete spectrum of humanity’s experience? In personifying the city, and in knowing that without ever having moved, the city had seen more of the world than one person could hope to see in a thousand lifetimes, I think I was able to feel the gravity of time more clearly than before.
At the end of this unnerving line of thought, I was grateful for what the city had given me: by imparting a sliver of what I feel to be wisdom (however heavy), I felt simultaneously isolated from and interlaced with the rest of humanity. The thought has stayed with me, and for a while it was uncomfortable to revisit. But when I left the thought alone and slowly returned to my 9-5 back in Canada, I discovered that the thought cultivated itself into a humbling bump in my mind that is worth running over every once in a while.
By my own standards, the truest thoughts I’ve ever written have been while in motion, at the conclusion of an experience. When I find myself in this rarely accessible headspace, I do feel as though I'm at the end of something... it feels like cinema, it's surreal, but it's the realest thing I know. It's the most meaningful thing I know.
“...It is a blend of far too many feelings to articulate, so I think I’ll think of it as love, and I’ll know what to keep seeking and the kinds of experiences and memories and connections that bring me to this space; keep my eyes brimmed with tears, keep my mind reaching for spaces impossibly high above me, please please (God?) don’t let me forget this feeling… forty-five minutes ago I understood, and after a brief sleep I am lost again.” - June 2017