A Traveler’s Idea of joy

It was probably 2004, because it was two years since I had graduated high school, and that’s how long I had been in France. The two years I lived in France were packed with stories that I have told on other blogs, to other people, that will stay in my memory in a treasure box…but this is one I’ve never written about. 

I was missing my family, who had decided to move to Mexico on a whim. After all, that was my mother. She had moved to Martinique in her 20’s after marrying a gorgeous french dude twice her age, to have her baby girl and live happily ever after…until they moved to Dominican Republic and got divorced instead, and then remarried and then they both actually lived happily ever after married to other people. 

But while my French father stayed in Dominican Republic (because staying in the place where you’re from is unheard of in my family) my Colombian mother had married a Dominican Spaniard and moved to the USA instead. So just so we’re clear here:

  • I’m half-French, half Colombian, but have spent my babyhood in Martinique, my childhood in Dominican Republic, grew up in various parts of the USA, then took turns traveling between France, Mexico, and the USA for my adulthood. I won’t go into the rest of my family right now because describing our nationalities would be an entire chapter in my book. 

But this is to give you some context in understanding why I did not necessarily consider myself a “traveler” before. The word “traveling” to me implied a sort of intrinsic base. You were ‘from’ somewhere, and were simply –for a time being– visiting another place. I did not consider myself a traveler because I did not consider myself (nor do I, still) “from” any one place, and while we did travel to many countries, most of my  moving around was me actually just what another person would call living. Somewhere around my early 20’s I realized I didn’t know how to stay put, and that the closest thing I had to a base was my tiny family of five (as I now had an American-born sister who has spent most of her life in Mexico.) So after two years of being in France, I could feel that it was time to move on. But where?

Then, on what must have been a Wednesday, (or a Saturday, the day doesn’t matter but the night was beautiful) and I was in my living room flipping through the channels, eating tuna salad, when I caught a glimpse of what I knew I wanted.

I had gone to visit my family in their new home in Mexico once or twice and I missed them, but Mexico was such a random country to move to. We didn’t have family there, and there was nothing about Mexico that had really spoken to before. I was homesick for them, but there was something else too, that I couldn’t figure out. 

I landed on a channel that was playing the first few minutes of the movie Chocolat. “Johnny Depp?? Yes please” I thought to myself. perfect Wednesday/Saturday night (or whatever.)

I knew right away I was going to like the movie because the main character made me think of my mom (and later on, I would realize, of myself) in the sense that she was a traveling free-spirit who needed nothing else but her gut and her daughter. At one point, that had been my mother and I.

The movie began to get a hold of me, lace itself in memories of my childhood, root itself in desires I held hostage from myself, stir up secrets I refused to acknowledge. There was a secret plan forming in my subconscious worthy of Ocean’s Eleven, in which I was the casino and my every desire for my own life was the money they were going to swivel out of me. There was no hot Brad Pitt and charming George Clooney here; it was just me, my tuna salad, and Johnny Depp.

The movie seemed innocent enough, there were no heart-wrenching moments, I hadn’t cried at all, it was a genuinely cute, romantic, free-spirited bohemian movie. 

And then, suddenly…a scene. A random scene, where everything comes together, there’s a bonfire, some gypsies, a party or something…and a beautiful guitar being played a tune that I don’t remember and would never recognize but it changed my life

I was suddenly crying, longing after something I felt I had always longed for, and I could not put it into words but that scene was capturing it over and over again. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but thrilled with the excitement of feeling like my sails were going up. 

Somehow, even though this was a movie that took place in France, I knew I wanted to leave. I had no idea why, but at that moment my conclusion was, I need to be in Mexico. 

I decided I was going to be an English teacher, which somehow evolved to being an ESL teacher. I looked up schools and found that there was only an hour away from the town my parents lived in, and six months later my mom and I were taking a walk in the absolutely gorgeous city of Guanajuato (Gwan-a-HOO-AH-toe) in Plaza San Fernando, listening to the student Tuna (note: not a fish) play music next to a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful night with clear skies and Christmas lights. 

When I knew…I knew I had made the right decision. 

It was around then that I also discovered the song La Boheme, which oh my God. I can’t even translate the song to you guys in English in an accurate way but the energy?

…The energy of that song is what was born in me that night that I watched Chocolat. 

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This is me singing the song in front of people for the first time ever. 

It’s a song about being completely broke, but finding magic and comfort in the company of other artists and the poetic beauty that surrounds you (once again, in France.) It’s originally sung by Charles Aznavour, a classic and important contributor to the Chanson Francaise aspect of music. 

It was then that I discovered myself, my gypsy heart, and that I realized that I was, in fact, a traveler. 

That a traveler was not what I had thought it to be before, a traveler was rather someone, who –like in La Boheme– took solace and found their home in the movement of like-minded people, and the poetry of foreign places that surrounded them. 

Sure enough I have spent my life from then on finding a common language with my people, those who travel not only the beaten path but the ones that like to wander away from it. We don’t get our fulfillment from stability, or money, or beautiful things though all of those help…we get our fulfillment from losing and finding ourselves over and over again. Seeing ourselves reflected in the different cultures, different languages, and different lifestyles. We are artist-minded, and nomads at heart, even those of us that do come (born and raised) from one place only. We are dreamers. 

It was the label that wasn’t a label, because we don’t look alike, nor share common lifestyles. The only thing we share, is the call in our heart. A call that is satiated by ever changing muses, by music, by different flavored food, by new places that challenge us greatly and push us constantly outside of our comfort zone. 

I had found a home in not a country, but in a people…in a spirit. The Bohemian Spirit.

It’s 2014 now, and it marks ten years that I have “stayed” in mexico (I have traveled back to the States a few times and stayed there for a year or so.) I don’t feel like mexico is any more my home than the United States was, but it has been here that I’ve been able to flourish in the freedom of being a Bohemian spirit.

I don’t really know what I can tell you from this point, if you yourself aren’t a traveler, that might make sense to you in what it looks like to find yourself, and do so in Joy. But if there’s one thing I can tell you, is that before you know who you are, before you can blossom into what makes your heart sing, you’re going to have to lose yourself. You’re going to have to know what it feels like to not know what you want, because that’s what’s going to make you look. 

So from a traveler to the rest of the world, if you’re feeling lost right now? Pay attention. Your heart’s telling you something, and if you don’t listen, you might miss the chance to spend a beautiful night, feeling free and fulfilled for just a moment knowing that you made exactly the right decision.  

Happy travels.

All my love,

xomj

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