In the beginning of this series (before the new year), I wrote about the differences I've found between what I called "nomadic" travel (in which one moves around without putting down roots) and the type of travel where one makes a new life in a foreign place. Specifically, I wrote first about the difference between the ecstatic highs of nomadic travel versus the slow-burn warmth of finding the small things one loves about a foreign place day-to-day. Later, I wrote about battling my fear of boredom as I've settled into Palencia. I didn't think the two were particularly related at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that they are connected in some important way.
Nomadic travel is by definition without routine or everyday responsibilities. One is subject to an entirely new set of stresses, of course, but there are no meetings to go to, electric bills to pay, or trash bags to take out. One need never do the same thing two days in a row, and every week brings a new barrage of challenges-- a new metro system, language, currency, or set of customs to adapt to. To a certain kind of traveler (namely, me), adapting successfully and rising to those challenges affords a unique and intense satisfaction, a kind of happiness rarely encountered, and so my year of nomadic travel was perhaps the ideal adventure. Never have I felt so fully or consistently challenged. It was occasionally overwhelming, scary, and lonely, but it was always filled with thrilling newness-- whether I was at a Hindu wedding, sitting in on a Viet luck ceremony, dancing at a Turkish coming of age ritual, or singing Tibetan drinking songs.
Making a new life in a foreign country in many ways presents an opposite experience. Yes, there are many exhilarating new things--neighborhoods to explore, bars to sample, people to meet, customs to learn-- but after the first weeks they arrive within the framework of a routine. Except in the most metaphorical sense, a Spanish life is not the same as a Spanish trip, and there are bills to pay, dentist appointments to keep, dishes to wash, and classes to teach--whether one feels like it this morning or not. Making a new life requires developing a cycle of tasks that repeat--get up, make coffee, go to work, meet friends at that one bar, grocery shop at that one store-- in a way that tasks do not repeat when one is participating in nomadic travel. And I am starting to think that it is from that repetition that the boredom I so fear develops. Somewhere along the line, a life of cyclical routine loses its charm at the price of looming monotony.
Except, here's the thing: when I first started thinking about moving to Spain to teach, it was exactly that cycle, that familiarity, that appealed to me. I spoke (and wrote) about a desire to "get under the skin" of a place--to be a regular at a cafe, to pinpoint the best places for live music, to know where to get the best or cheapest produce, to become more than a passer-through, more than a dilettante of foreign life. Even now, writing those words, that prospect is appealing to me, and it's something I believe I'm achieving. If I weren't, how could I have made the list that preceded this entry about things to do in Palencia? How could I have found people to wave to when I pass the cafe on the corner of the Parque Salon? How would I know about the fruteria near the old gun factory, where I can buy all of my week's fresh fruits and vegetables for E15?
So, I've started thinking that maybe it's the word I fear, rather than the action of boredom--and the most powerful thing about language is its mutability: a word can always be reframed. So yes, there are mundane tasks that must be done, and they do not always seem glamorous or exotic. of them I will have to do week in, week out until I leave this place in six months. And yes, I will go to some of the same bars and restaurants many times over in my time here. But I've come to the conclusion that boredom in this sense, as repetition, is an inherent part of the kind of travel in which you make a life. It is this repetition that will help me to get "under the skin," as I've said, to try new tapas at that bar or go back to the park by the cathedral to see how it looks in winter instead of fall. That repetition means depth instead of breadth--and if depth is boredom then perhaps that boredom is something to be embraced.
It's up to me, then, to destigmatize for myself the idea of repetition. I need to work toward rethinking the concept of mundane tasks and familiar actions in an un-mundane setting as not something to run away from, but instead as marks of victory.