"And I had learned what I had always secretly believed, that the difference between travel writing and fiction is the difference between recording what the eye sees and discovering what the imagination knows."
-- Paul Theroux
It’s been almost six months since riding the French rails for two weeks, and about a week until the adventure resumes, this time for a much longer and broader trek. When I leave again it will have been almost a year of living alone. During this time, I delivered much of Carolyn’s personal effects to her family and one of the Jeeps to her high school friend. Her closet is empty, and so is the garage, as the local PBS affiliate picked up the second Jeep, which Carolyn had owned for twenty years. I am now Wheeless in Seattle by choice. Yet, with all those material possessions gone, my experience so far is that our home is more filled with Carolyn’s spirit than before I left. France brought Carolyn so close to me again that I can practically feel the warmth of her breath on my shoulder. I can talk to her now as if she is standing right next to me, instead of pretending she’s channeling through that fish wind sock out on the deck. (I still talk to the fish, though.)
So the train trip was the perfect medicine for my grief, and I’m tripling the dosage this time around. I’ll be changing the formula as well. I’ll actually plan on seeing stuff. Nothing dramatic, mind you. Maybe one cathedral, one castle, one Roman ruin, a museum, a piece of scenery and a historic bridge, all spread out over six weeks or so. I know what a grind all that sightseeing sounds like now, but once I get in a rhythm…
I did read the better part of five books over the two-week French trip, so my ebook app will be brimming with plenty to keep me going this time around. The notebook will once again be filled with many a pithy and witty comment that won’t seem so pithy and witty when I get down to putting it into the narrative of the trip later that evening. And there will be days again, when I will merely take a train to lunch and back. There were too many mundane things I so thoroughly enjoyed doing on this last trip that I can’t possibly give them up in planning the next. Carolyn wouldn’t recognize me if I did, and I wouldn’t deny her the pleasure of an eye roll or two at her adorable little boy aimlessly riding the rails.
Along with myself, I will be putting Claude on a diet as well. The ability to do a laundry half way through a trip means you only have to pack half as much. (Yes, this means a couple of times on this two month-long trip, I will be taking a train to a laundry, instead of just lunch. Don’t you just envy my ever diminishing sense of adventure?)
I’m continuing my French lessons that will help me directly in at least four of the countries I expect to be traveling through, and won’t hurt me in several others, I'm pretty sure. I’m enjoying learning French in a way I never enjoyed trying to learn German. Maybe it was the fact that Carolyn was so fluent in German that I had less of an incentive to learn. Traveling alone, though, it’s become vital at times to have a handle on at least some key words and phrases, as that incident in Avignon trying to buy pepper perfectly illustrates.
The main thing the next trip will do is occupy my time with planning. An important element I’m discovering about widowhood (do you say widowhood or widowerhood if it’s a guy, or does one term serve for both genders?) is to find things to stay engaged with the outer world. I got the inner world covered up the wazzu, but too much internal in a life lived suddenly alone can turn on you. I’ve felt the toxic breath of isolation enough at times to know not to let it overtake. One thing I'm sure of: France was just the first leg of the renewed and continuing Carolyn and Reid journey, a journey (to remix Theroux) of what the eye sees and the imagination already knows.
Then there’s the blog. It will continue to be not about surviving or coping with widowhood (widowerhood), but growing with it. Enduring is not living, and Carolyn would have none of me merely enduring, because she never lived her life that way. The setbacks, disappointments and sadnesses in her life did not affect her continued living of it. Carolyn did not turn life into luggage. I know that when Carolyn arrived at wherever she is now, she arrived without even a carry-on for her baggage. I plan to travel light for the rest of my life, too, so when she and I do meet up again, we can hit the road together without even bothering to pack.
Sorry, Claude, you won’t be coming with when that time comes.