Lovers in St. Petersburg
Some of you may remember that when I set out on my voyage last August, I decided to use "love" as the focus of my blog posts and explorations of the world. The idea came to me in London, when I walked along the Thames and saw an exhibit celebrating love in all its forms and inviting the passerby to enter the "tunnel of love."
I've never not been fascinated, even obsessed, by the question of love. Like many girls, I wanted to be Nancy Drew, but with one caveat: I wanted to be a love detective--to seek out the mysteries, secrets, wonders of love. I snooped and spied on everyone, strangers and friends, trying to get to the heart of what I considered the greatest mystery of all: why do we fall in love with one person, and not another?
I read romance comics--anyone remember those hoary, moralistic tales?--and devoured love stories wherever and however I found them. I wrote my first love story at age 14 and proudly handed it in to my English teacher. It was a terrible imitation of Colette and D.H. Lawrence (did I mention I was a very precocious reader?), a sensual realization by a woman that her lover has left her and will never return. The woman breathes in their sheets and pillows, still smelling of their lovemaking, and she knows she will never forget his unique scent and the love they shared. Keep in mind this was written by a girl who had been kissed a couple of times, but who gleaned her knowledge by following people, staring at them and eavesdropping on conversations, and of course imagining what exactly Lady Chatterly and her lover did without having a clear sense of the depths and heights, and even the humor, of passion. All I knew was there was a world out there I needed to explore.
The teacher ripped it to shreds in front of the entire class. She called my writing, "obscene," a word I'd never heard of before. After that, years passed before I shared my writing again.
Today I may have a clearer sense of the realities of love, but I'm still every bit as curious (my husband says, "nosy") as when I was a kid and picked up The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton, an early 20th century traveler and adventurer, simply because of its title. Little did I know it was the beginning of the merging of my two great passions: love and travel. I'm not searching for definitive answers anymore: there is no one true solution to the mystery of what is love or who we love. And there is no one voyage that will tell me: this is it, the final border, no more to see, nothing left to explore. There will always be more. Many great travelers have said that we travel in order to understand the landscape of ourselves. Love, like travel, teaches us to see with all our senses. It is a promise and a gift.
I believe love is the most profound form of travel: it teaches us to explore another human being with the same curiosity, humility, wonder and compassion with which we explore a foreign country. And to return to ourselves, hopefully, with a new generosity and tenderness. As we approach the 4th of July, our day of independence, let's celebrate the freedom to love and marry whom we choose. Happy Freedom Day, everyone!