Quiet people

The summer is here, I am told. Out the window the fog swirls in solid grey, and the red leaves on the scraggly tree blow in the wind as they did in November, and March. The days are long, but there is little blue in the sky. Based on the view this could be Shanghai, though this gray is made of water and that of coal dust. From the middle the result is the same, opaqued horizons and indistinguishable hours. Yet Shanghai, like Tokyo and New York, has a summer built on human sweat, a constant stick and resulting search for showers.

I hear distant friends wish for air conditioners, tired of their summer’s humidity and temperature. These faint desires barely penetrate my house, where the windows remain closed to keep out the chill wind. They are the desires are of some other place, unfathomable in San Francisco.

In conversation today a friend mentioned how hard it was for him to make time to travel, to leave his normal routine. I agreed, being scarcely able to imagine other locations, much less see them. We are two people prone to settling in, I said, to routines that are of us rather than of the place we inhabit. In Beijing we did much the same thing as Shanghai, or as Tokyo. We did much the same as last month in New York. The idea that there is a global common of airports, cities, parks and restaurants, bicycle rides and museums, long postulated, is indeed true. We are wrapped up in our location and have trouble stepping quickly out of it, or even remembering that such steps are possible.

But we move, he shot back, we move more than anyone we know, up and down and around and around this blue planet, to strange cities and strange cultures, with jobs and without, before our friends and after them, until we have almost no home, no single place with any deep attachment. How then can we be simultaneously sedentary, so unaware of the possibilities of weekend travel, when we are vagrant, groundless?  He does not know.

From Vancouver I receive an emailed answer that penetrates the fog, which is also one.

“China seems so long ago,” writes a friend from my first years there, “like a dream, I wonder if that was me.”

Houston’s humidity, Tokyo’s hot concrete, even New York’s sweat-filled excursions of a scant month ago are hard to recall from the fog of July. I know them, from personal experience, but my body does not remember the heat, can not bring back the memories to my skin. We may move, all of us, in circles large or small, but where we are is what we see. My friend in New York, like myself, travels more than he admits, to Maine one weekend, to New Jersey the next. I do too, to Seattle, to Los Angeles. The problem is separate, and simple. From his air conditioned office and my socked in desk on a Tuesday these voyages are hard to remember, and our bodies are no help.

“I’m living in my head,” my friend confides, “like old times in China.”

We are half creatures of the world, exploring and learning as we can, and half reluctant cohabiters, uncertain of our joy in other’s company. The balance is a delicate thing, a scale fine enough to be tipped by weather.