Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Randi, whose Swedish blog is not only visual delight, but a veritable visual orgy (visit it, you'll be as enchanted as I am), asked me (in Swedish) in a comment to my previous post (Flying cats) why I change countries and continents every year and I decided to attempt to answer this question.

But first a disclaimer of sorts: I do not really change countries and continents every year: I might stay 18 months in one place, 7 in another or have a period of moving more often: 3 months here, 4 in another place or country... still, in my early retirement period it averages so far changing places about once a year.

Why? Because I like it - I like new and different, over and over and over again. I do not have to get tired of the place in which I am, to suddenly feel this strong pull to go somewhere else, experience something different.

Sometimes that pull to go somewhere else coincides with the change of the weather: I was, for example, enjoying living in Georgia mountains, enjoying the scenery, the forests, the lake, the mountains, as well as the proximity to Atlanta and its abundance of metropolitan opportunities: cultural, social, commercial.

But I was not looking forward to spending the winter there: it is usually too warm there for a nice, visually delightful cover of fluffy snow, but cold and gray/black for several months. So I started planning a move to a warmer locale - initially for about 4.5 months (mid November-mid March), but the plans changed and I decided to go to Puerto Rico and ... stay longer. The same reason took me from Sweden to Spain and from Spain to Morocco ( even southern Spain seemed too cold for me in winter), etc. etc.

More often it is because I miss something in a place, which I otherwise like. On Padre Island, in Texas, I enjoyed being a beach bum, enjoyed a company of really good, close and fun friends, proximity to Mexico, which I visited fairly often.....yet I missed forests, deep forests, I missed trees - other than palms and I missed mountains, even hills. So - after a year and a half - I took an opportunity and moved to NE Georgia, famous for its deep forests, to the shores of picturesque (though man made) mountain lake, Lanier.

There is hardly a place where you could have everything: every landscape, every climate... though, I admit, California near San Francisco, where I used to live for several years. comes pretty close: within - at most - half a day's drive you can go from a hot desert to the snowy Sierra, from rugged coast to sandy beaches... but California is overcrowded and very expensive... Besides, I have already lived there - more than 5 years - and there are so many other places where I haven't lived yet.

But why this wanderlust? I don't know. I guess it is a personality trait (or as astrologers would say, my being an archetypal Saggitarius ;-) , but certain circumstances might have deepened it.

First my childhood and early adulthood in Poland, under a communist regime, when a dream of traveling abroad, exploring other countries, exploring life in a different political system was for most people just a pipe dream, while for the others required serious sacrifices: leaving your child, family, friends behind, without knowing for how long, if not for ever.

I still remember a Polish song popular shortly before I emigrated (here translated):
" ah, to get on a train to anywhere,
not caring about baggage,
not caring about a ticket,
squeezing a few dollars in hand,
watching how everything remains behind".

A - partially involuntary - emigrant 's song. Of course this was an uncensored version of a song; in its official, censored version, - "a handful of dollars" ("pare zielonych" in Polish) was substituted by " a green stone", ("kamien zielony"), which did not fool anybody, but the censor ... or may be not even the censor, but playing dumb, he or she had an excuse to allow it to be broadcasted.

Imagine what it did to wanderlust.

And then my doctoral dissertation was censored, I got "an offer I could not refuse"... and stay in the country, yet I had to refuse it to be able to look at myself in the mirror, so I emigrated, illegally, of course, to Sweden.

(A distinction: I never was an "illegal immigrant". I was always legally in Sweden. But I was an
"illegal emigrant": I had no Polish security police's permission to stay abroad any longer than two, three weeks and to take with me anything more than a small backpack and $20)

After a year in Sweden I got married, after another year brought my daughter from Poland. We bought a house in the Stockholm's archipelago, then a vacation house at the shores of Lake Maelar, two cars, stuff.
With Swedish taxation even two incomes weren't enough to carry those expenses and allow for travel more often than every second year, for a couple of weeks... and I soon started to treat ownership of real estate as a tremendous psychological burden - as a new kind of prison.
This time not a communist ("you shall never be allowed to move anywhere") kind of prison, but a Swedish - very heavily taxed - middle class ("you must - like every proper Swede - own a house and a vacation house - no matter that it limits your mobility") prison.

A few more years and I managed to convince my Swedish hubby to move to the USA, where we could afford travel - financially, that is.... but in the USA the vacation time is so short, I ended up in the third, US-capitalistic ("you shall never have time to travel" ) type of prison.

When my spouse died (young: brain tumor) and my daughter went to college I decided to turn a tragedy into an opportunity and get myself out of any and all of those "prisons": work on assignments, longer or shorter, in different countries, on different continents. And I did - in almost 50 countries total!

And I really enjoyed it so much, I still continue that pattern in my early retirement.

"Perhaps", my daughter mused recently "when you really retire, we can buy you a house and you can stay in one place? Mostly?"

"Perhaps" I answer "when I get really old and decrepit".

"And when are you planning to get really old and decrepit?"

"Never, I hope".

"That's what I thought" - she sighs.

But, who knows, I might actually get that old and decrepit... and perhaps even enjoy it ;-)


Speaking Boricua said...

that is such a sweet story :)
I hope to be able to do the same someday.

zooms said...

I understand this, thank you for taking the time to explain, and how travel broadens the mind.

Randi said...

Har totalt missat detta inlägg och har nu läst det två gånger. Blir helt betagen av din story. Du har verkligen en otrolig förmåga att anpassa dig till de olika världarna du placerar dig i. Antar att du får en kick av utmaningarna, som driver dig att fortsätta mot nya djärva mål.
Jag gör precis tvärtom. Har hela mitt liv flyttat ofta, men nu vet jag att jag funnit Mitt Paradis - jag älskar de fyra årstiderna, ljuset och att få leva så nära himlen.
Skulle suget efter något nytt väckas till liv igen, kan jag nu bara titta in här och tanka lite äventyr. Tusen tack, för att du delar med dig!

Minerva said...

Thanks, y'all! Isn't it fabulous that we all are so different and - thanks to the miracle of blogging and virtual friendships - can indulge ocassionally - or regularly - in each others lifestyles?