As you might have guessed from the title this isn’t a travel blog. It is more a platform for me to communicate what is on my mind. But that said, I have spent the last two weeks in Rome and Catania thinking and writing (also relaxing) so there are a few things I’d like to share with you.
No matter what country you are in you’ll still be a geek…
This wasn’t the first thing I wrote in my diary when in Italy. The first thing I wrote was a nervous scrawl about having no idea how the hell to validate my train tickets and being worried that a guard might come over and shout at me in Italian. Strangely enough, three years ago I wrote something similar about the Polish train system. Basically, I had no I idea how get the ticket machine to work and ended up travelling to Warsaw illegally (without a ticket). It seems that while I remain completely ignorant of other languages I’m doomed to begin my non-English speaking holidays stressed and confused about public transport.
Our tendency to only learn English in the UK doesn’t make us too popular abroad. I found the fact I am monolingual often coming up with other tourists and dancers. Reactions ranged from exasperated to genuinely shocked, and although I made my excuses about the education system and doing Spanish night lessons at the wrong time in my life, it wasn’t an issues that easily slipped into the background. It is weird that we are only really exposed to one language in the UK and that most of us are monolingual. The rest of the world is coming together and England is starting to look like an arrogant dick.
It is a shame that being English following Brexit, the monolingual thing and how English tourists behave in other countries, puts you a bit on the back foot with other countries because in youth hostels you feel a real sense of internationalism. The world is hanging out together. Everyone wants to know where you’ve come, from where you’ve visited and even to see your photos providing you then agree to sit through a 64 page slideshow of where they have had lunch for the last two weeks. It makes me proud of my generation which I feel is a genuinely international one. But that said these kind, liberal open minded people I met in the youth hostel are most likely not going to be running the world in the next 30 years.
They definitely weren’t reflective of society, being almost exclusively privileged and middle class. I worry that a lot of people I met seemed to be “travelling” as an alternative to living, working in their homes, and to political activism. A common topic of conversation seemed to be how badly things were back home, particularly for young people and how they were going to start saving up for their next trip as soon as they returned. I have no right to judge how people spend their money but at the same time I worry that parts of my generation are choosing to travel rather than make things better for the next. Will our children accuse us of squandering their inheritance choosing to holiday rather than save and politically agitate for their future?
It wasn’t just being monolingual that made write “no matter what country you are in you will still be a geek”. It seems wherever I go there is inexplicably a group of beautiful people in fashionable clothing, laughing with each other and doing shots. I meanwhile spent much of my down time in the hostel drinking Yorkshire tea (I brought tea bags) and reading Albert Camus.
Absurdism was the right philosophy for my holiday. There were moments, such as when I had to be helped out of an Italian supermarket after 5 minutes because I didn’t realise you need to scan your receipt to get out, or when I couldn’t find my Bed and Breakfast for an hour despite it being meters away, that made life is nonsense a nice get out clause for my own stupidity. But I’m also starting to think that absurdism might be the right philosophy for me more generally. Absurdism is the idea that life is essentially meaningless and all we can do is carry on in contempt of how ridiculous everything is. Unlike Christianity which says life has inherent meaning or existentialism where we find our own meaning, absurdism is about living with the void and making the most of it.
Wikipedia gives a pretty good summary below*
I used to think that absurdism implied that there was no point doing anything but enjoy yourself but like all things it is a lot more nuanced than that. Camus talks about how we need to work with the historical circumstances we were born into and how picking sides is an essential part of being a man. Indeed, Camus himself was an anarcho syndicalist who took part in the anti-colonial movement and French resistance against the Nazis. But at the same time absurdism makes clear that it isn’t enough to live for a cause. You are free, there is no meaning and have no excuse not to live as much as possible. It is a terrifying prospect.
Italy is a beautiful place to eat, travel, think and I recommend you go there. The swing dancing scene is young but welcoming and basically everyone I met when holidaying alone was kind to me. I have a notebook full of anecdotes, anxieties and people I need to stay in touch with, or at least fondly remember.
**Picture at the top credit to the Catania Free Walking Tour (really fun, check them out they even have virtual reality!)