Between Here & Home: The awry world of going places

IT’S amazing, the places you travel when your football team is being thrashed and your mind wanders away from Bruce McAvaney’s inane declarations of man-love. 

As Geelong kicked their seventh first-quarter goal on Friday night, I was away with the reverie fairies to a converted warehouse on the banks of the Thames in London. 

It’s one of my favourite travel memories – playing kick-to-kick with a Ukrainian nuclear physicist who, like me, was making a few illegal pounds as a cleaner in his spare time. Five pounds an hour to kick a footy. Beautiful. 

I can still remember the smell of the sanded timber floors – the sound of the footy echoing off the brick walls. And being blown away by the fact that my new friend had watched the AFL Grand Final in faraway Cracow. 

“Travelling is a brutality,” the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said. “It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off-balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky… all things tending towards the eternal.” 

It’s why, even 20 years later, we still remember those moments that somehow shoved us out of our everyday stupor and momentarily made the ordinary seem like the most beautiful thing in the world. 

Like standing in a cobblestoned laneway in Toledo, Spain, watching and listening through a basement window as a stranger practised the violin. 

It was dusk, and in that moment my private concert was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. Years later I recognised that tune at a free concert in Bendigo and learned that it was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D. But it was never played so perfectly as in that laneway.

 Then there was the time I had my one and only crew cut – from a barber in Salzburg, Austria. 

All because the word “trim” wasn’t in my German/English travel dictionary. It turned out the barber liked Neighbours (the TV show), so he didn’t charge me, and even took me out for lunch. It was worth a bad-hair holiday. 

A dear friend of mine is travelling in Japan at the moment and seeing an unfamiliar corner of the world in her own perfectly imbalanced way. 

Her email missives are full of those small moments of wonder as she travels not only into the world around her, but an equal distance to her world within. 

And while I’m envious of her adventures, and travelling vicariously through her words and images, she’s also reminded me, as Chesterton famously wrote, that the object of travel is not just to set foot on foreign land, but to set foot on one’s own patch as if it were a foreign land. 

I’m seeing Bendigo through new eyes; you know you’ll be the first to hear of my discoveries.

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