Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Travel: Solution and Cure

At lunch on Sunday I was told about a Polish archbishop who thinks there are too many annulments. Speaking as a Catholic who had an annulment almost 15 years ago (when I was a baby), such opinions can be like cold water down the spine.

"Apparently the greatest number of annulments are granted in the United States," said my informant.

"Maybe the greatest number of invalid marriages are contracted in the United States," I said.

My informant allowed that this might be so, and continued to reflect upon the opinions of the Polish archbishop.

"Apparently the archbishop thinks there is an abuse of the reason of immaturity," said my informant.

"Perhaps quite a lot of Americans marry when they are immature," I said.

My informant acknowledged that this could be so.

I believe that it is so, and furthermore I know it was so in my own Canadian case, for I was tremendously immature when I was in my early twenties, and in my late twenties, and was not really fit for marriage until my early thirties. To some extent this was my very own fault, but to some extent, yes, society is to blame.

There is a cult of youth, and when I was young the Baby Boomer generation was hanging onto its own youth with utter desperation. There was a 1960s revival in the 1980s, and so young and old wore miniskirts and did the twist and felt that we had missed something central to human civilization by not being at Woodstock. The message we got was that the 1960s, when the generation previous was young, were a sight better than right now, more idealistic, more special, more youthful. Adulthood was for squares, and when my work first appeared online, I got a comment from some aging hippy that although I might be younger than him in years (he was sixty), he was younger than me, really.

He seemed proud of that.

Anyway, when I was a teenager, American and Canadian teenagers were coddled and swaddled and told these were the best years of our lives, and we watched films in which THE PROM was the culmination of everything but also our last hurrah before COLLEGE. College was held out as the great golden ticket to our dreams although actually nobody ever mentioned how much work you really ought to do while you are there.

Ah, work. Work, work, work. But I am not going to talk about work work. I am going to talk about the work you do when you travel. This is because I honestly believe that the best way to gain maturity fast is to go by yourself to a foreign country, a country where you do not speak much of the language, and survive. Other people will say "Get a job" but I had lots of jobs as a teenager and by 21 still had all the maturity of a rubber duck. No. In hindsight, my parents should have sent me to French Canada every summer and told me to get jobs there. Oooo-oooo! How scary. And that's not even a foreign country.

People think of foreign travel as fun, but foreign travel is a weird kind of fun. It is a kind of fun where you have to deal with crushing amounts of bureaucracy and airline restrictions and sometimes even having your bra prodded in case its underwiring is attached to semtex.

It means you are suspended in thin air for hours at a time with usually only the vaguest notion how that works and then plunked down into crushing bureaucracy in a foreign language.

It means you have to figure out, on perhaps very little sleep, how to get from the airport to somewhere else, preferably not by being robbed or raped by a pirate disguised as a local cab driver.

It means you have find a bed, and then you have to amuse yourself--by yourself or among complete strangers (e.g. a Contiki tour group)--for a week or more, in very novel circumstances.

This can only lead to growth. My sadly inherent immaturity was chipped away a little bit more this past Saturday when I remembered that the Polish for lift was "winda", found the sign saying "winda", discovered that this "winda" was broken and looked for another sign saying "winda." Then another chip went missing when I remembered that taxis can be found at the "postoj taksowek." And then a big chunk came off when I confronted the first taxi driver in the queue--who was younger and scarier looking than the driver behind him--and said, in Polish, "I want to go to this address. How much does it cost?" (NB He wasn't a pirate. He charged only 19 zl and was a perfect gentleman.) Come to think of it, though, that whole night of sleeping rough in Gatwick airport was probably the most maturing of all.

So my solution for the immaturity inherent in the many North Americans with the misfortune to be like myself is to travel to foreign (especially foreign LANGUAGE) countries alone and just survive. Planning is key, and I also advise learning enough of the language of the foreign country to get by. This is interesting but also difficult and boring and, sadly, "difficult" and "boring" seem to be the magic ingredients.

The other wonderful thing about travel is that it is very often a cure for a broken heart. If your heart has been thoroughly squashed, there is nothing better for it than getting it over a very large body of water, e.g. the Atlantic, to feel better and get some perspective. You see places that have no association with the heartbreaker. You are too busy trying to remember the local word for "bathroom" to remember that thing he said once. You see astonishing sights that, unlike that thing he said once, you will never forget.

It's too bad that travel tends to be expensive (sigh....), but the thing to do is to work and budget and scrimp and save until you have enough. And the difficulties and boredom of this working, budgeting, scrimping and saving will also add to the maturation process.

P.S. An all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean does not count.


amy said...

May I clarify, you are talking about travel alone or with a friend, not a tour or group, yes?

Just another Catholic Girl said...

You mean, traveling through the Middle East with a tour group of people you don't know doesn't count? Drat....guess I'll have to plan another trip then! ;-)

Seraphic said...

I am talking about travelling alone. But if you really are too afraid to do that, then a friend is helpful.

Single women travelling alone have to be extra careful, of course, but that is all part of the "survival training."

Seraphic said...

No, no. Travelling through the Middle East with strangers is also good. It's the all-inclusive Club Med thinga-ma-bob I don't think is very helpful.

Magdalena said...

You are quite right about traveling as a cure for broken hearts! After my last big crush on someone who didn't have a crush on me I went to Latin America for 5 months, and really, there was no time left for brooding over my fate.
And now, after living peacefully in a very nice little town in southern Germany for a few years (with, sigh, 6 or 7 catholic churches in walking distance from my house), I am going to move to Switzerland in a few weeks! Not exactly a "foreign" country for me (kind of the same language and not far away), but it presents all the thrills of border bureaucracy, foreign health insurance systems, and my knowing not a single soul there. At the moment, I find this really exciting - finding a completely new set of friends, getting to know a beautiful new city... I might even come closer to some nice catholic Swiss mountain farmer ;-) I guess the part where I sit there crying after my friends and feeling lonely will come soon enough... I will think about my immaturity being chipped away then...

Rachel said...

I very much agree with this advice. Traveling alone is especially good--if especially dangerous--for people like me who tend not to pay attention to their surroundings. It teaches us to be a bit more practically minded.

Urszula said...

I love this advice! Maybe because travelling (and living abroad) has been my passion since I can remember.

As to your PS. - travel can be expensive, but there are also marvelous opportunities available if you just look and ask around. My best experience so far was working as a volunteer tour guide at a Cistercian monastery, thus living for almost a month for free on a beautiful island on the Mediterranean :)

There are some caveats, though. Having uprooted myself numerous times, I feel there are some problems you can't (and shouldn't) run away from. There can be a tendency also to try to heal a broken heart by consorting with the wrong kind of man. Just because he is exotic and foreign doesn't make him any less dangerous (frequently, even more so). Young females who travel and work abroad should also be fairly wary about who tries to befriend them, and who they let into their hearts while they are lonely and sad in the first moments on their own.

A nice Catholic community or support system at the destination can make all of the difference (I was the only Catholic at my workplace in France for 2 years... it was not a good situation).

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. I wasn't even thinking about "holiday romance"--except at those Mexican and Caribbean all-inclusive joints. Arg.

I have countless sad stories about holiday romance gone wrong. (We aren't counting me and B.A.: we were sending emails merrily back and forth before I showed up on my Scottish holiday.) Meanwhile, in my salad days I could not set foot in an Italian city without some man, African or Italian, trying to pick me up with such astonishing lines as, "I think you were on my plane!"

AmericanInWarsaw said...

I wasn't necessarily thinking of 'holiday' romance either... just that single girls going to live abroad or spend a summer abroad probably become not only more mature but in a way, more vulnerable. It's sometimes hard to be Seraphicly single while all your childhood friends and close family are on another continent. Some men unfortunately exploit that vulnerability.

Urszula said...

It's not limited to 'holiday' romance, I think... when a young single girl goes to ravel or live in a different country, she may become more mature but more emotionally vulnerable. It's sometimes hard to be Seraphicly single when your childhood friends and close family are on another continent. There are unfortunately men who will exploit those momentary lapses into sadness and try to get their way when all you really want is for them to bring you some chicken soup ;)