Well Intended / Another world an hour from Westport
It is almost summer. The kids will be out of school, and the pleasant weather and longer days will provide opportunity for little adventures, time spent outdoors, and hopefully some travel.
When I find myself recycling the same thoughts, ideas that have lost their usefulness, and walking paths I have traveled so many times that I no longer notice the way the stones are worn beautifully smooth or the dandelions are in bloom today, it's time to disrupt my routine. When I am in the same place for too long I stop paying attention.
I kept a stack of ragged vintage suitcases as a side table for many years to remind me how important it is to embark upon a journey now and then. Sometimes we need to get away and to see things differently.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." By leaving home and the obligations of the ordinary, my perspective changes. When I am in a place I don't know, my senses are piqued. I notice everything. The discomfort of not being sure of how to speak a language, read a street sign, catch a train, or how to order a loaf of bread or cup of tea is thrilling. I tend to get lost and to wander. I love to see things I have not known before. I am pleased that there are so many fruits I can't identify and vegetables I've never seen. I pay attention in hopes that I will recognize possibilities.
I've learned to conjure a similar state of attentiveness by exploring other neighborhoods, especially those populated by immigrant families who have brought aspects of their culture with them. We are fortunate to live in a place with such diversity within easy distance.
A couple weeks ago, a trip to the Sky Foods, an Asian market in Flushing, N.Y., taught me that in my town we have few varieties of mushrooms available by comparison in even the fanciest gourmet market. I longed to try them all. There are aisles of noodles I have never heard of and wouldn't begin to know how to prepare. The tanks behind a row of fishmongers are filled with glittering fish and sea creatures. A delicious meal at Flushing's Jade Asian reminded me of Dim Sum lunches in Hong Kong, and also of a joyful feast celebrating the birth of a friend's baby girl many years ago.
Spa Castle, also in Queens, N.Y., provides an afternoon journey into a Korean bath house. A trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx can make you feel like you are in Italy for a few hours. I can sip a cappuccino or fill a basket with vegetables, bread and parmesan at the market. On days when I need inspiration, I take myself out of town and look for something extraordinary.
Not everyone travels for the same reasons, of course. I know there are many people who just want to get away and to relax, and the more similar the resort or destination is to home, the better it suits them.
We are all inspired in different ways. I like to be bewildered by a place I like to find a way to belong to it for a little while. For me, when I have lost myself to another place, it's easier to come home again.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at kristarichardsmann@gmail.