It’s an anxious job, pulling out of the comfort zone

I’m in the bedroom, packing – two days until my flight. I’m filling with familiar sensations. As my body is about to be relocated, it grips the life I’ve been living and through this act I see everything close up: indistinguishable days, become lovable for tiny details. It becomes impossible to believe I’m leaving for a month.

How’s it going? I hear Dan ask from the doorway. I have no idea how long he’s been standing there.

I think it’s all going to fit, I say, taking in his eyes.

We stare at the rucksack. I lay my hand on the folded clothes. Dan shifts his weight from one foot to the other. I try to imagine opening the front door, heading down the street with my belongings on my back, arriving at the bus stop and waiting for the coach to the airport.

Where do you want to say goodbye? I ask Dan.

He looks at me and says: on my bike, chasing after the coach.

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I was seventeen when I took my first trip. I went to Paris with my brother and a lad we’d both grown up with, who was another brother of sorts. This was nothing like the family holidays I’d been on as a child. We stayed in the halls of residence with two other friends I was at school with and ate chocolate for breakfast. It was the first time a boy saw me naked, standing up with the light on – a small tabletop fan blowing on my nervous flesh.

We drank beer every afternoon and one night sat around the table in the communal kitchen, doing shots. The lad I’d grown up with was the only one doing vodka – the rest of us were secretly drinking water. He kept downing more and more, trying to keep up. At first, we had to pretend to be drunk, but then he became so bombed that it didn’t matter. I took photos as he threw up out of the fourth floor window onto a car below. This was life, surely?

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Dan asks me what I want for my final supper at home.

I tell him lamb steaks and parmesan potatoes. This is a meal Dan and I constructed when we were living in Denmark, WA – our last trip together.

One of the things I’ve noticed about living abroad is that there’s a point I stop looking in the supermarket for all the things I can buy back home, and I start to really see what’s around me and cook for the country I’m in. One of the dishes to come out of the eighteen months Dan and I spent in Mexico was slender chicken fillets coated in coarse ground peanuts and chopped garlic, which I then cooked on a griddle and served sliced in tortillas with a salsa made from finely chopped green chilli, orange and onion.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but it epitomises what it is to give yourself over to another life – suddenly it begins to inform you in a way you don’t notice. It permeates your skin and changes the way you think, until one day you notice that you are moving in a way you’ve never done before. With this realisation comes a powerful, momentous rush. This is the sense of freedom that comes when we are being who we truly are, and we discover that it’s okay – more than okay. Frankly, it’s better than anything.

I’ve tried making my peanut chicken in the UK, but it’s not the same.

In Denmark, WA, Dan and I began a cook-off. I made a table in my diary where we could record who cooked what and score each other. Mostly, we were fair about the points we gave.

I made swordfish, mulberry and apricot crumble, pasta with lemon, courgette and chilli, squash and orange soup. Dan made pad thai, pad thai, pad thai and pad thai…

(We had just returned from a ‘visa run’ to Bali where we’d spent a lot of time eating in a tiny and delightful Thai cafe.)

Each attempt of Dan’s was better than the last and he was slowly making his way to a perfect 10, but then he had a lapse in concentration and undercooked the noodles. He tried to persuade me not to mark him with a 4, because he felt he’d finally found a perfect balance between the tamarind, fish sauce, lime and sugar. I pointed out that despite the flavour, the dish was inedible due to the consistency of the noodles. He accepted 4 as generous. That was when he decided to try a new dish.

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The lamb steaks are soft and flavoursome, the parmesan potatoes crispy.

Not as good as in Denmark, Dan says and I smile – I remember giving him a ten for this dish.

How are you feeling? he asks.

This final day, my blood feels as though it’s been invaded, rushing through me, giving an intense feeling of restlessness. And like something you glimpse out of the corner of your eye, which isn’t there when you turn to look, I’ve had a profound sense there is something I have forgotten, which won’t reveal itself. When I think of leaving Dan for over a month, I get a sharp shooting behind my eyes and the world goes blurry until I blink several times and bring it back – the room in front of me, the house I’m abandoning. Sometimes the tears don’t all go back to where they came and one escapes, rolls down my cheek.

We are creatures of habit, Dan and I agree. It’s an anxious job to pull out of the routine, the comfort zone. But something always makes me get on a plane, even though the first few steps – taking my rucksack out of the cupboard, organising my affairs so that I don’t return to a landslide – are a wrench.

So, why do I travel? There is something inside me that wants to search. I feel fear, but at the same time a keen desire to explore the sensation – and in identifying it, understanding more of myself. By travelling the globe I travel my own arteries. Continents are organs. I explore the outer world to know more of within, and in doing so the two become closer until one day I will simply be part of the world – not separate, alone, but the same as whatever is around me.

Planning a trip all works beneath the surface – the fact that I’ve been taking bookings for my workshops, but for some reason not fixing anything in March. Suddenly, this free month is a week away, asking. I take off on my bike and arrive at Trailfinders, sit down at a desk, take a deep breath.

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Dan and I walk to the bus stop. It’s drizzling gently. The last two days have been the sunniest of the year. The sudden emergence of Spring has intensified my feelings of leaving. Smells and sounds, which have lain dormant during winter, have provided a sensory banquet – shortcuts to memories, a profound sense of hope so that I have to ask: do I really want to go? But the ticket is booked, and I know that such asking is the body, fearing change. So, I move into the fear, to know it better, waiting for it to become familiar and no longer frightening.

I look up – the sky has closed over again. Spring has had second thoughts. The rain is like a whimpering as Dan and I wait at the bus stop. We think we have ten minutes to amble in our talk, tock the ball of our feelings to and fro, but then the coach appears round the corner. Although it’s indicating to pull in, it’s not slowing down. We’re at the wrong stop.

The two of us gather my bags and run down the street.

The coach pulls in and I make it on board, buy my ticket and have just a moment to jump back down to the pavement to hold Dan for one last time this Winter.

I love you g, he says over and over in my ear.

He holds his hand over his heart as the coach drives away and I watch him through the window, knowing my smile must look peculiar – all twitchy with grief. The world goes blurry, though this time I let the tears come.

But there’s something else too: as I wipe my cheeks, I feel it – this lifting of whatever it was that has been weighing my blood down these last few days.

America, I think. America. Places I’ve never been.

By the time I get to the airport, I am light, alert. My senses – the really keen ones that are put away during every day life – are coming back to me. Now, I’m walking to the gate. I put my headphones in my ears and select D for artists. There are three songs here that Dan has spent the last few days recording – even though he’s had a cold. I press play and after a second of silence I hear him sniff, which makes me laugh. The chords begin softly on the guitar. I can see his long fingers strumming, his wrist relaxed as his hand moves up and down. Here comes his voice: I hear you whispering just out of view…

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Worth Checking out

I couldn’t talk about food without mentioning the lovely Sugarness who is kind enough to feature some of my recipes, along with her own wonderful creations.

A huge thank you to Chalkdust Fairy for nominating me for the Sunshine Award. Rebecca’s blog truly is sunshine.

This week I’m reading Paul Auster ‘True tales of American life’, which is stunning. It’s worth buying the book just for the first story!

About gabrielablandy

Some history, a bit of fiction, with me in there somewhere.
This entry was posted in Memoir and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to It’s an anxious job, pulling out of the comfort zone

  1. Awww Gabs, I felt your pain of leaving merging with the excitement and promise of what was to come. And I love that you and Dan scored each other on your cooking, how funny! I knew a couple who worked in IT and they were both real geeky whizzes at it and for fun in the evenings they would build firewalls for each other on their computers and then see who could hack into each other’s one the quickest! And thank you for the shoutout for my Sugarness site!

    • Look at you – first to comment!
      What a wonderful story about that couple – I love it.
      No worries about the shout – I think your bakery site is so cool.
      As for me, I’m just getting ready for a very long train journey west – total time 1 day and 15 hours…gulp…

  2. Letizia says:

    The question, where do you want to say goodbye?, brought me back to my own memories of temporary longterm separation. As if the goodbye wasn’t the whole day, wasn’t the anticipation both people feel before the trip, as if it could be experienced in one moment. But in a way, it also does happen in one moment, suddenly one does say goodbye and the journey starts before you know it!

    • Lovely thought about the whole goodbye thing. In the end, because of the bus, Dan and I had to say goodbye so quickly, but I think that was better – because like you say, we could have spent hours saying goodbye. It was better just to have to do it and move on. Thanks for reading, Letizia – it’s always lovely to see you here 😉

  3. A gorgeous evocation of leaving. I always feel the same sense of ambiguity before I go on a trip – though my trips are not so long and I love the thoughts about finally cooking for the country you’re in.

    • Thanks, Andrea. I’ve not much cooking here as the supermarkets have such an incredible supply of freshly made food. I have eaten some wonderful meals though! And I had my first true American burger, which was delicious. Then, in total contrast, I went to a smart vegan restaurant and had probably one of the most scrumptious plates of food I’ve ever eaten!

  4. So much to love here. One of my favorites: “I don’t know where the idea came from, but it epitomises what it is to give yourself over to another life – suddenly it begins to inform you in a way you don’t notice. It permeates your skin and changes the way you think, until one day you notice that you are moving in a way you’ve never done before. With this realisation comes a powerful, momentous rush. This is the sense of freedom that comes when we are being who we truly are, and we discover that it’s okay – more than okay. Frankly, it’s better than anything.” I feel that too when traveling, giving yourself over to another culture, another way of being in the world.

    This part about travelling I also love: “So, why do I travel? There is something inside me that wants to search. I feel fear, but at the same time a keen desire to explore the sensation – and in identifying it, understanding more of myself. By travelling the globe I travel my own arteries. Continents are organs. I explore the outer world to know more of within, and in doing so the two become closer until one day I will simply be part of the world – not separate, alone, but the same as whatever is around me.” So true.

    • Deborah, I’m so glad that you picked out those two bits. Normally, I write my posts and then leave them a day before I publish. But because of being on the road, I had to write and post almost immediately – so I did wonder about the parts, which were just my thoughts, and very little narrative. I’m pleased to hear that they worked for you. Thanks x

  5. Those chicken tacos sound delicious, but it appears I may have to visit Mexico for proper ones. I do live in Southern California, so maybe that’s close enough to enjoy near-proper.

    Speaking of my native land, where are you visiting? It sounds like the first couple of days will be rough, but I hope you’re doing something exciting and have the good luck of meeting many of the good people that live here.

    Hope the flight was quick and comfortable!

    • Get to Mexico and have tacos from a street stand – fresh and delicious!! Nothing beats it.
      Currently, I am in New York, but I’m due to head West to visit friends and then I want to take in a bit of Canada before coming back to the City for Easter.
      So far it’s been going wonderfully – but I don’t want to say anymore and spoil my next post!! Thanks for your lovely comment Phillip – here and back on your own site.

  6. Such a vivid evocation of travelling…I love it on my own, adventures fly at you when you’re on your own , the way when there’s two., you’re left to your own devices…
    Looking forward to the next instalments of your deeply felt adventures…

    • Hey Valerie! Yeah, it makes a difference when you are travelling solo. This is something Dan and I recognise, and we knew that this time we wanted to trip on our own. So far, it has been such a great experience…but I don’t want to spoil the next post!!

  7. Mayumi-H says:

    I read this, at the first wondering if it were memory or fiction. By the second or third paragraph, I found it didn’t matter. You capture those feelings of fear and excitement and longing so well; I relate to them, myself, many times over. It’s beautiful to see the bravery of you/your protagonist here, too: overcoming those misgivings as we all should do.

    Lovely work, Gabriela. I hope many wonderful adventures await…and that we’ll get to read about those, someday, too. 🙂

    • Hi Mayumi – this was real, this is me! But I like that it doesn’t matter for you. I guess that means I got the right level of storytelling, or narrative into the post to draw you in. The story has just begun…there will be a few more travelling posts. Watch this space 😉
      And thanks so much for taking the time to visit. Always appreciated xx

  8. Lovely. Thanks for sharing. And enjoy your trip to America. 🙂 It is an interesting place.

  9. Although well managed I found that goodbye hard to read in some ways, but beautiful as well. The love you share and his care of and acceptance of your nature shines through the post. You are lucky in so many ways. What will the post about when you return be like I wonder. Having said that I’m a compulsive adventurer myself so I understand the urge to travel.

    • Just getting to the last section of comments on this post now that I am back! Sorry you’ve been sitting here so long without recognition. I like the idea of you being a compulsive adventurer – it’s a good phrase. As for the post now that I am back. I’ll need a couple of days to work on that, but it should be up early next week when business starts as usual. Hope you’ve been well.

  10. I am late in replying – I apologise. By now you are you based in NY? I read this and indeed it is written as Fiction Novel, so exquisite your words once again. The rain is like a ‘whimpering’ – that stole my breath away. I wish you well in your travels and your new adventures and so look forward to reading of your journey on your return. I would so love to travel more, maybe in years to come when I retire, but for now it’s not possible. I am jealous yes of your journey and of your brilliance – so there I said it 🙂 xxxx Take Care Gabs and travel safely.

    • I apologise too for being so late in replying to your reply! Now I am back I am beginning to return to work as normal and see these last few comments on this post – and think about how I am going to write about my magical time away. As for you saying that you are jealous – I appreciate your honesty, but I always think jealousy is also a form of powerful aspiration. I sense that in you – how hard you strive. And for people with that amount of energy they always get there!! Love, and I hope you have been well.

  11. gotasté says:

    I am even later – you mention fear…but i am seeing a lot more courage…the courage to live with fear and overcome it……….it take a lot of courage for one to go out and see the world in-search of the inner self…..not many people dares to give that a go…and i look forward to your many more beautiful stories from your trip. Have a great journey my friend.

    • Danny – thanks for your thoughts on courage. I have to say, many people I met on the road talked about the fact that I was brave to be doing what I was doing. Now that I am back, I feel stronger as a result of all the challenges. I am just slowly returning to my work on this blog, and looking forward to seeing what people are up to. I hope you have had a good food-filled month while I have been away!

  12. lisawsmith says:

    This captures the sense of living between countries and goodbyes so beautifully. Your bus adventure sounds fantastic, as well! Bon voyage.

    • Lisa, thank you. A little slow in replying as I have only just got back, and logged back into the real world! I hope you have been well this month. I look forward to seeing what you have been writing about.

  13. Wow, such a romantic, pioneering spirit. I shall live vicariously through you and tuck away your adventures with the hopes that I should be so lucky as to follow in your hiking boots one day. Just remember what Erma Bombeck advises, ‘When you start to look like your passbook photo, it’s time to come home.’ 😉

    • What a fabulous quote. I have to say – I would quite like to look like my photo as it was taken 10 years ago and I look young and brown! Sorry for my slow reply to your lovely comment, but I am only just returned from my trip and getting back to business as usual.

  14. Chris Edgar says:

    I think that is an evocative phrase — “my blood felt like it was being invaded.” I think that sensation is the principal reason why I carefully monitor what I eat — I don’t want to experience the feeling that what I have eaten (usually because it contains refined sugar) has caused my systems to spin out of control and I have no way of rooting out the foreign invader.

    • Interesting thoughts about keeping blood safe. I certainly agree with that, Chris. I’ve only just returned but one thing I notice is that it is far easier to control what goes in when you are at home. On the road, you have to make do with what is on offer, and suffer the consequences! I hope you have been well this last month – I look forward to catching up with what you’ve been doing.

  15. Kim says:

    It’s been a month – are you back yet? Your writing breaks my heart and warms me like a blanket at the same time. So glad to have found you on the interwebs.

    • Kim! You gem. I am finally back. What a wonderful trip – thrilling and rewarding enough to mean that I have kept most of the high even though I am back to my life as normal. I hope you have been well while I’ve been away – I certainly look forward to popping over to yours and catching up. The last time I was there you had that wonderful post about character. I wonder what you have been writing about recently. Thanks for your kinds words about my work – this was a gorgeous comment to return to. 😉

  16. I love your honesty, Gabriela, the basics written with simple flair and high interest. To travel alone is a double journey, and I’m glad you had a wonderful trip.

  17. I’m finally visiting you here after your lovely stops by my blog. What beautiful writing. Your words have re-ignited my urge to travel, to experience the palpable emotions of coming and going. And you’ve articulated a phenomenon I could never put words to — why I could never make tortillas at my parents stove the way I made them in Honduras, or prepare guacamole as effortlessly as I did in Mexico…

  18. “By travelling the globe I travel my own arteries. Continents are organs. I explore the outer world to know more of within, and in doing so the two become closer until one day I will simply be part of the world – not separate, alone, but the same as whatever is around me.”
    You have worded my own journey. I remember as a small child my need to have pen and notebook close to me as I gathered my first impressions of Italy. It is as if the physical act of travelling is somehow activates the inner urge to explore.

    • Yes, I do think that there is a correlation between the physical act, and the impulse from within. Often, I get the sense that I am beginning to feel stagnant inside – and then I find myself on a train, looking out the window, and this ‘moving through the world’ enables me to begin to move within again, throwing up a fresh set of ideas and desires.

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