The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. So said G. K. Chesterton many moons ago and although he himself was not a man I’d have fancied in his day, that insight alone would have earned him a dinner invitation (if he brought Fr Brown with him).
I’ve noticed that, more often than not, I come home from somewhere without having seen the sight. I rarely buy guidebooks and tend to rely on fiction set in the city to navigate my way around. Inspector Morse in Oxford, Commissario Brunetti in Venice, Spenser in Boston, Kate Shugak in Alaska – the list goes on. If anything, I have stronger feelings about what I don’t want to see than what might interest me. I didn’t visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam until my fifth trip there (and then only because it was pelting down rain).
I’ve been going to Malta two or three times a year since 2010. It’s a small island and as my play time is limited, my list of things to do is still quite long. Had I to rank those places still to be explored, though, Popeye’s village – the set where the 1980 musical movie was filmed – would not have made the list. But life has a funny way of taking you to places you need to see, just when you need to see them.
We’d left St Julian’s hoping to make the 10.30 ferry to Gozo but got stuck behind a bus and another bus and another bus. Resigned to catching the 11.15, our intrepid guide, the inimitable SB, decided to detour to the village. She didn’t tell us where we were going until we were practically upon it by which time the child in me was already drooling at the wonder of it all.
It was like looking down on another world. The voices of faceless children cut through the air. From our vantage point on the cliff above, everything seemed tiny. Positively Lilliputian. It was whimsical. Playful. Fanciful. For the first time in a while, I felt the joy of pure delight. Simple, uncomplicated emotion, reacting to nothing other than what I saw. Innocent amazement.
It gave me pause for thought. Our lives are way more complicated than they need to be. Our relationships, too. Our expectations have lost all sense of proportion. We’ve forgotten the simple joy of contentment. Our days are harried – targets, deadlines, quotas drive us forward. Goals, objectives, plans keep us moving. And all for what? To be happier, richer, better off than our parents and in a position to leave our children better off than ourselves? And in all this haste, I fear that we are in danger of forgetting how to live.
At the end of another manic week, I’m decidedly grateful that SB knew what I needed better than I knew myself. I’m glad that the child within me escaped for a while and reminded me that there is a place in my life for whimsy. After all is said and done, to quote the man himself, I yam what I yam.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52