Monday, April 25, 2011

On Living Locally and Seeking Continuity

I was having a political discussion with a friend over email, and in response to something I wrote he replied: "You know, it's really starting to show that you haven't been out of the US in almost a year." Ouch... But the "insult" aside, I realised he was correct: I haven't been out of the country since last July, which is unusual for me. Moreover, we have been without a car since December, making our travel radius limited to cycleable distances. Without explicitly being aware of it, I have transitioned from living "globally" to living "locally," and my friend's insinuation was that this has made me narrow-minded and provincial. Has it? I think not, but I also realise that I don't really care. My quality of life has improved as a result of the changes I've made since last year, and that's difficult to argue with.

We could go on forever debating the "moral" and "social responsibility" implications of living locally vs globally. On the one hand, those who lead lifestyles that rely on air travel are doing a great deal of damage to the environment. On the other hand, one could argue that some international jobs are "important" in their contribution to society, and the scale of this contribution outweighs the degree of environmental damage. But the trouble with these arguments, is that they inevitably lead us to a slippery slope. Who determines what's important? Who has the right to pass that judgment on others, and using what criteria? Are UN workers "good," but fashion reporters "evil"?  Is it "wrong to endanger the environment" by traveling to Shanghai just for fun, or is that outweighed by the positive effect of experiencing another culture, growing more tolerant and open-minded as a result? Impossible to say, without imposing our subjective sense of logic on others' sovereignty, which is not something I wish to do.

But the issue of living locally vs globally has personal, psychological implications as well, and these have been on my mind lately. I have an unusual personal history, and have basically never lived in any one place for more than several years at a time. As a result, my life has been fragmented and unstable, which I do not feel is ultimately good for me. When I remember things from my past, I sometimes get confused about the location of an event, and even about the language that was spoken. With my friends, relatives, experiences and memories scattered all over the world, it is difficult to maintain a sense of continuity and even a coherent sense of self. Forming healthy attachments to new people and places is challenging, and replacing the physical reality of personal interaction with virtual communications is isolating.

As we lose our sense of "continuous living," our notions of contact grow increasingly abstract - and not just contact with other people, but contact with our surroundings. I remember a post by Dottie at Let's Go Ride a Bike some time ago, where she describes the lifestyle of her family in the North Carolina suburbs as "traveling from pod to pod." The home is a pod. The workplace is another pod. The restaurant, also a pod. And because of the vast, highway-navigated distances between each, there is no clear sense of what happens in between; it is kind of a dead space, almost a virtual space. I found this imagery to be both frightening and relatable - a reflection of my own anxieties about what our lifestyles are doing to the way we connect with the physical world.

I thought that I might feel limited and stir-crazy once I stopped traveling abroad, and even more so once we began living without a car. Instead I am feeling as if some long-neglected human aspect of me is waking up. Living locally and all that it entails - seeing the same people, experiencing the change of seasons while staying put, and developing a feel for manageable distances - is giving me a sense of continuity that I have been lacking.

45 comments:

  1. I'm not exactly sure why, but your post made me feel happy, and happy for you.

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  2. In this globalized world, traveling just doesn't always take you as far. Of course there is great value in experiencing other cultures, but increasingly one must go father afield. Major cities are very much alike from country to country.

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  3. Just to say that the fact that I have lived and worked abroad has changed me for life, and I think that one year (or twenty) is not going to delete that experience. Even if you live your life in one small spot now for sure you`re not going to forget there is "something out there". I think that "landing" mentally where you live at present is good for you, a way to rest and connect.
    badmother.

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  4. I find myself feeling very similarly on a personal level about decreasing the radius from home in which I go about my everyday life. I feel like living within a few miles of home helps to give me a kind of concrete mental and emotional map of the world I live in. If you frequently travel hundreds (or even multiple tens) of miles on a daily basis, how can you even begin to wrap your head around your world? I really like that concept of 'virtual' space, in referring to all the in-between spaces that you have to move through to travel such distances.

    Like you, I'm not trying to make any kind of moral statement about "sustainability" or about anything really (I love international travel), but just that, the smaller circle I live my everyday life in, the more connected I feel to my life, and I love that.

    By the way, have you read the paper Energy and Equity, by Ivan Illich?

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  5. Maybe I can recover from my sometimes negative posts over the weekend. Very cool topic. Living "Car light" rurally for the last 7 years has left me pondering this question from time to time. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I didn't dream of travelling often. Truth is, we made a choice and can't have the best of both worlds...we simply don't have the money at this point to travel. Do I miss it? Sure.But, if I had the choice of purchasing land and investing in making a home in a small community and travelling I would pick the former. There are drawbacks to living a "provincial" life, however, I experience things daily that would be hard to experience in global travel. I know people and I know a place quite well. Those things enrich my life too and I think that living with neighbours that you don't necessarily see eye to eye with forces you to be more open-minded at times. I can't surround myself with people who think about things in the same way so I have to try to understand many different ways of looking at things or else I would be very alone. Probably more to say but I am prattling...hope this is on-topic enough

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  6. Good one today, Velouria. I think a connection to your community is one of the things that is both extremely important to have and easy to lose.
    Carbon footprint aside, I believe travel helps one grow as a person, but at the same time some sort of local roots - even transplanted roots - are vital to being a healthy human being.
    Besides, to paraphrase quite freely from Chesterton, to have a view so broad as to see the whole world in one glance gets dull pretty quickly, but to be small enough to look at everything up close, to see canyons in every pothole and vast mountains in each hill... what an adventure!

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  7. What you so elegantly described is a feeling I've always felt very strongly. I think the folks from a simplier time might have called it "being a home body", but I prefer "grounded". Several times I've felt this same emotion when leaving for a distant destination. I didn't want to leave my home, my dogs, my friends and my family. Even if it was just for a short while. Familarity felt like harmony.

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  8. My dad was in the Navy growing up, and so we moved every three years or so ourselves...and as an adult, I've lived in the same metro area the whole time--although I've moved from one house to another ridiculously often.

    I love the idea of putting roots down in one place, and then traveling here and there, but always coming back...

    I'm lucky in that, when my dad retired from the military he was hired by a company that moved us out to a suburb of Portland, Oregon. I love it here! And I might live somewhere else someday, but chances are good it'll still be in the Pacific Northwest. It's just too lovely out here.

    I really love getting to know my city better and better--its history, and the geography, and just, I dunno, really feeling that sense of place.

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  9. Interesting! I am just about to enter a big external travel-heavy phase after being extremely local to NYC for the three years that encompassed my pregnancy, my son's infancy and early toddlerhood and the (almost) completion of a long-term work project. In that time, I haven't flown once, after traveling constantly for my entire life.

    I grew up somewhat similarly to what you describe. Several continents, all anglophone, though, mostly. Some childhood chaos was mitigated by my father's family's very deep US roots, but that led to its own manner of cultural dislocation, when I confronted the US with WTFs-a-plenty. NYC seems to harbor lots of people like me, and I do love it, though I couldn't live here if we didn't have countryside to go to.

    I think getting around by bike has given me a regular experience of discovery and freedom that I think has kind of quelled my wanderlust. And has liberated me from the parts of NYC I found most heinous -- all involving public transportation and driving here, of course.

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  10. I don't travle much and have the same thing. I feel as though time spent in transit is "lost time", and one of the things that makes me glad about cycling is that I now have less of that (though I do still drive to most places; but I'm working on it!)

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  11. I grew up in a small town, but once I hit 22 I have moved every few years with the military or job choice. Now that my life is settling down and without a car, I can understand the feelings you've expressed.

    Seeing the same faces every week, the same girls at the check outs, the butcher, the owners of the market stalls.. it does feel warm, friendly and local. The streets become my streets, the alleys become my alleys and all the little details I see while walking or biking are the little masterpieces I am savoring. Behind the steering wheel of a car, I savored nothing. It was stale air pumped in through mechanical tubing, canned radio programming, the same as the day before, fast food eaten out of a paper sack.

    Have you noticed that having a bicycle actually makes your meals more conscious? I've yet to take a bike through a drive thru. There's no KFC while on a bike. lol.

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  12. Great post.
    Love God, love your neighbor, everything else is gravy.
    And in answer to your question... yes, fashion reporters are evil.

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  13. What about fashion reporters who are responsible for the rise of environmentally-friendly trends, such as buying vintage instead of new, and riding bicycles... compared to UN workers who are essentially paper pushers and abuse their positions whenever possible?

    Slippery slope, Dave. Best not to judge.

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  14. Wow, interesting topic, Velouria. I am a very "rootsy" person in that I grew up in one place for nearly my entire childhood and after college moved to a different place and have lived here ever since (that was 20+ years ago). Like many children of academics, I did live abroad for about a year and a half growing up, and it did change my outlook forever. While I don't have the money for extensive travel, I saved enough to take my teenaged son to Europe a few years back -- and even that short visit changed HIM forever. I do think that kind of experience is very important for all the reasons you state above. As far as day-to-day... gosh, I think I must think about these things very differently from most who read bike blogs. I love experiencing the world at a variety of different speeds and on a variety of different scales. I love my immediate neighborhood, which has gained a lot of character since I moved here 12 years ago (or else I have!). I love moving through it at walking speed and at bike speed (two very different experiences), and feel very lucky to have all basic amenities within walking or biking distance. I am very invested in my neighborhood. At the same time, I must confess that I truly love driving, especially long distance and/or through rural areas. That is a very different way to experience the world (and a different world to experience) and I wouldn't want to give that up. I realize this is not a popular viewpoint among dedicated bicyclists! Despite compelling environmental arguments, I fear that I would not ever be happy living car-free just because driving pleases in me some ways that bikes cannot (and vice versa). However, I am quite happy living car-light. I know this will seem incredibly selfish and wasteful to many readers... sigh...

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  15. Velouria said,
    "Living locally and all that it entails - seeing the same people, experiencing the change of seasons while staying put, and developing a feel for manageable distances - is giving me a sense of continuity that I have been lacking."

    Growing up as a Navy brat I lived all over the world too. Even my military specialty and work forced me to be an unwilling traveler. It wasn't until I neared retirement did I stop all the travel I'd grown so tired of to put down real roots where I live today.

    As I age I find that , on looking back, that I really wish I'd stopped all the travel before my kids were grown and my wife and I were in older middle age.

    One effect of all this travel has been to make me something of a hermit since even the term "road trip" will tilt me into a panic that I have to leave the comfort and security of my abode. While I give in to take the dreaded road trip the day is just around the corner when I will tell all "I'm fine at home so I'll see ya when ya get back" and travel no more.

    In fact, this may be my last year of being bullied or guilt tripped into travel I no longer can stand. I just want the peace of my home..........

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  16. were you offended by your friend's comment? as someone who doesn't have the means to travel abroad or move abroad, comments like that really sting and betray the other person's elitism. yes, in a sense people who travel a lot for their job their lifestyle sound glamorous. but it also sounds tedious, living in hotels all the time, having to make new friends all over again. no thanks, i like to have somewhere to hang my hat.

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  17. Having a sense of 'belonging somewhere' is pretty important for most of us I think. You can wander around the world, you can be part of different cultures for a day or a year, but having that sense of community, a place to where you can return and renew relationships with friends, shopkeepers, the mailman, is the thing that makes many of us warm and happy inside.

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  18. I think it is an extremely slippery slope to make value judgments about peoples' lifestyle choices using iffy arguments like environmental impact. I'm a raving anarchist, though, so I prefer to let people have as much freedom as possible to make the life decisions they want. ;)

    Which is to say that if one person wants to live in the city and another in the country, or one wants to drive a car for fun and the other for necessity, let them. Along the same lines, I don't think there are any professions that are "better" just by virtue of having a role that is more socially or politically popular right now. What matters is whether you are a person of good character and integrity, not your job description.

    As Velouria noted, I'm sure there are just as many sleezy charitable workers are there are reporters. What make a person good has nothing to do with how many hours they spend on a car or a bike or where they live, but how they ultimately behave towards others.

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  19. Ridonkulus said...
    "were you offended by your friend's comment?... comments like that really sting and betray the other person's elitism..."


    Yes and yes. Though in this particular case my friend himself is not American, and perceives me as not being "really" American either, so it was more a case of anti-American sentiment expressed by a European. I should add that most Europeans I know - who are mainly in academia, medicine, government, and various IGOs - express at least some degree of anti-American sentiment. This attitude has always been there to some extent, but it increased by a hundredfold during the George W Bush administration.

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  20. Get a sailboat, best of both worlds. Travel just about anywhere (and use your bikes to get where the boat can't go) with minimal impact. See the world and still live slow and possibly pretty locally, it's just that where "local" is can change whenever you like. ;)

    Also the view from the patio tends to be spectacular.

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  21. The Europeans are just jealous because we have better bicycle blogs.

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  22. portlandize.com said...
    "By the way, have you read the paper Energy and Equity, by Ivan Illich?"


    Yes, though it's been a while : )

    Deborah said...
    "...At the same time, I must confess that I truly love driving, especially long distance and/or through rural areas. "


    Me too. But I hate driving in the city, and even more so along these awful routes with heavy traffic and non-stop strip malls and car dealerships. Some day we will live in the country again, and I will get around by either bicycle or truck, as applicable. Maybe with a nice 1960s seafoam Jaguar convertible for occasional seaside drives if I suddenly get rich and run out of bicycles to buy...

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  23. Hi Velouria.
    I always enjoy your insight.
    If a friend told me I was becoming provincial and narrow minded, and if i didn't care if that were true, i guess that would mean i had become provincial and narrow minded. Not good!
    But i read foreign news, i like movies that take me new places, i like different ideas, i like world history, i like my community.
    How could my friend be right?

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  24. Anonymous said...
    "If a friend told me I was becoming provincial and narrow minded, and if i didn't care if that were true, i guess that would mean i had become provincial and narrow minded."


    Very true : )

    neighbourtease said...
    "I think getting around by bike has given me a regular experience of discovery and freedom that I think has kind of quelled my wanderlust."


    YES. I think that describes what happened to me as well. I am in some ways a homebody, while in others an explorer - and the bicycle enables me to combine those harmoniously.

    "NYC seems to harbor lots of people like me, and I do love it, though I couldn't live here if we didn't have countryside to go to... getting around by bike ...has liberated me from the parts of NYC I found most heinous -- all involving public transportation and driving here, of course."

    When we first moved to the US, we briefly lived in NYC. As a child, I absolutely hated it. I remember feeling very scared by the atmosphere that struck me as simultaneously overcrowded and impersonal. I've been to NYC countless times as an adult and have contemplated living there, but somehow that initial childhood impression won't leave me despite all the cool things NYC has to offer. If I stick to DUMBO, parts of Williamsburg and maybe some cute artsy areas of Manhattan, I can enjoy it for some time - but eventually this cold and lonely feeling creeps in and I just want to get out of there as soon as possible. First impressions can be hard to shake.

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  25. Interesting topics.

    Roots: having spent most of my life moving around from Rockies to the east coast to the mid-west and the pacific northwest... roots are nice. But the only problem is that even when I try to keep things rooted and stable, there is the inevitable tendency for everything around me to change anyhow. So nothing stays the same for long. And rooted as I now am, of course I long to travel. Which brings us to jet travel.

    Jet travel is something that Americans like to take for granted. We like to fly off to Las Vegas for the weekend whenever we like.

    There was a very interesting study done about the carbon footprint of two families in Seattle.

    Family #1 was the average american two-car family. They had a regular house, all the standard suburban appliances and suburban mall lifestyle. Only they took no jet trips anywhere during the year.

    Family #2 was the enlightened 'New Age' family. They had no car, solar panels, recycled everything, double pane windows, biked and walked... conserved energy to the max. The only exception was that they took two jet trips during the year to California & Florida.

    When the yearly carbon footprint was tallied up, it was Family #1 had the smaller carbon footprint!

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  26. Velouria, you've hit a nerve, and apparently it's not just me. Being uncomfortably nomadic for my entire adult life, I dream of a place that feels like home - the more provincial, the better. I haven't yet solved the problem of building anything more than superficially (traditions, groups of friends, even a garden) with feet in more than one city. Actually, more than two cities, so I'm out of feet. Playing global Twister is kind of exhausting!

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  27. Yes, its ironic that there is a poulation in the US who travel around the world, but don't know their neighboors, local shops, or nearby attractions. Personally, I like a mix of both :)

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  28. After viewing the photo of your lovely Royal H. Mixte, it struck me that it's a logical extension of the locavore movement, in bicycle terms. Does buying a "local" bike build community, benefit the planet, redeem your soul?
    You bet!
    In my town, it's so gratifying to see more people frequenting the food coop instead of schlepping off to the soul-sucking Big Box Stores.
    Congratulations on putting down roots.

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  29. MT cyclist said...
    "After viewing the photo of your lovely Royal H. Mixte, it struck me that it's a logical extension of the locavore movement, in bicycle terms."


    Definitely. When I was first introduced to Bryan of Royal H., I remember vividly walking into his studio and seeing this half-finished frame on the jig... then thinking "My God, this is where my bicycle would be made. 10 minutes away from where I eat and sleep. By a person I am actually speaking with..."

    I am no stranger to handmade things. As a painter I have sold my artwork and have also purchased others' artwork. But the idea of everyday useable objects - especially complex ones that are normally made in factories - being instead created by hand in our own neighbourhood, is almost shocking by today's standards.

    My interest in Royal H., ANT, Peter Mooney, Geekhouse, Icarus, Seven and IF is not only in their work, but in their "realness" and approachability. As someone who lives near these builders and can interact with them in person, it is interesting for me to document the relationship between their work and themselves as actual, living people. Of course, I wouldn't mind having a bike made by each of them either : ))

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  30. What makes experiencing other cultures worthwhile--what, in fact, makes other cultures--are the people who are rooted in them. I can hardly see the point of going to Beijing or Paris if you're going to spend all of your time with people you could have met, and eating and drinking as you would have, some place else.

    The trick is to become rooted without becoming entombed. And, in order to develop roots, a tree also needs its branches and leaves that are open to the light, air and water that will allow it to grow those roots. As long as it does that, it will have deep roots but will be a vital form of life. If it stops reaching for the sun, it will die.

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  31. Velouria said: "I should add that most Europeans I know - who are mainly in academia, medicine, government, and various IGOs - express at least some degree of anti-American sentiment. This attitude has always been there to some extent, but it increased by a hundredfold during the George W Bush administration." This is absolutely the truth. You would be suprised if you knew how we Europeans judge the American culture and lifestyle.
    badmother

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  32. I had a relatively peripatetic childhood, with a family that migrated across oceans and trying to make the best of things in the various cities where my parents would bring us. While I've lived in the Boston area for more than half of my life now, I still feel like an outsider here. Parts of me still identify with Canada or Manila or the West Coast. Every place that we've lived in leaves it mark, changes us, and we don't necessarily lose that when we stay put.

    I have a couple of friends -- one of them has lived in Massachusetts for his entire life. He's hardly leaves New England, and I don't know how often he's gone overseas, but it isn't often. The other was born here as well, had a vagabond adulthood, roamed the world and then came back, living eventually a few blocks away from the house that her parents raised her in. The irony is not lost on her, but they're a magnificent couple: worldly in their own ways. She because she's been so interested in different cultures and different traditions, and he because he's been so interested in people and their lives and circumstances and stories.

    I personally believe that travel is an important life experience, and one that everyone should embark in. I also believe that, if you have the opportunity to start your life in some place other than where you were raised, you should do so. But I've stopped believing that it is a necessity to living a full life. It is enough to stay curious, and keep an open mind, and while travel can help foster that and can be fabulously effective, it's not the only means of doing so. I also think that there's something to be said for the stereotype of the jaded world traveler who thinks they've seen it all, but only because they've stopped looking.

    From time to time, the restlessness comes back and sometimes I think about just telling Immigration where they can stick their bizarrely byzantine process and just leave and start over. The thing that keeps me here, more than anything else, are the friends that I've made and the relationships that have formed over 15 years in the city. In the mean time, I scratch the wanderlust itch with vacations, road trips and with bits of travel writing. It's easy to go to another country when you remember that Montreal is only five hours away by car and when one has bookcases stuffed with diaries of people motorcycling through Patagonia.

    I sometimes wonder about what jet travel will be like in a post peak-oil future; whether we'll develop some new technological breakthrough that will let us squeeze a little more blood from that particular stone, or if it will get to the point where it's priced in the realm of military and government\corporate elite travel. I hold out hopes for the former, but I expect the latter. Then I wonder what other sort of alternative means for long distance transport will emerge. Zeppelins? Legitimate high speed rail in the Americas? Carbon fiber clipper ships? Even if the old jetsetter dream of waking in New York, lunching in London and sleeping in Dubai might fade for most, perhaps it will be replaced by new fantasies of riding an American Orient Express from Vancouver to Santiago, Chile.

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  33. This post gives me a great sense of peace and tranquility.

    +1 on the sailboat. If there's one vehicle that can compete on the same level as the bicycle in feelings of freedom, exploration and solitude, that's it.

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  34. I find that biking brings the world into a scale I can relate to, in both space and time.
    I commute by bike and notice that doing this makes me very aware of the passage of seasons, as well as day to day variation in weather. It makes a big difference to me if the day is cold, warm or hot, dry, rainy, or snowy. When I commuted by car, not so much. I would go from my warm home to the car to my warm office. I was cut off from the passage of time.
    Last summer I rode to a meeting in northwest Ohio from here in Pittsburgh and felt connected to the land in a way I hadn't been before. I understand the topography better and can relate to the experience of the settlers who took the Eric Canal west, then portaged (through Portage County) to the Ohio River watershed. That was the route I took on the way home, because it is the flattest.
    Biking is just fast enough so that you can get somewhere useful and just slow enough so that you can relate, as a human, to what you see around you.

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  35. "My interest in Royal H., ANT, Peter Mooney, Geekhouse, Icarus, Seven and IF..."

    One more for your list - some of the guys from IF went on to form Firefly, but you probably knew that.

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  36. cris said...
    "Legitimate high speed rail in the Americas? Carbon fiber clipper ships?"


    Would love to travel on clipper ships! I have a romantic obsession with boats, ships, ocean liners and ocean travel in general...

    A former co-worker in Vienna hates flying, yet his position requires him to travel frequently. Within the EU he takes the overnight train. When crossing water is involved he actually goes by ship, planning in advance and allowing up to 1-2 weeks for the voyage, depending on where he needs to go! While others find this annoying, his unique expertise in his field allows him to insist on these terms and conference organaisers will actually make arrangements for him to travel by ship, it's great! Of course, for someone with lesser stature, or for someone who mainly deals with emergency situations, this would not be an option.

    As for high speed rail in the US, see this article...

    GR Jim - Nope, did not know that!

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  37. The pendulum swings. I understand the gist of your post and emphasize. I spent my young adulthood travelling the country and some of the world in the US Army. Then I settled down and raised a family. But now with an empty nest, I’m feeling restless again. Whereas I enjoyed the sense of community of a small city in Kansas, I’m so ready for DIFFERENT. I wonder if you won’t get here also after some years of stability. But I do think that early travel is so important to helping develop a worldview that gets us past the provincial upbringing most of us have. I wonder if young adults that travel and see Europe grown into adults that hate rail travel and despise bikes. I doubt it.

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  38. Once again, a great post- I love your sense of self-reflection. I worked abroad for 2 yrs in Paris and it did change my life; and growing up bicultural in Florida, of chinese descent, I've always felt like an immigrant. Only in Paris was I treated as an "american" and held to account for US culture and politics.

    One thing I wanted to add however is the difference between traveling to diverse places and living among diverse communities. It is one thing to whisk in and out of a situation, and another to actually live it, and reckon with the differences that confront you daily. As an air traveler, you can literally keep your feet clean of the streets of Calcutta with a few strokes of the credit card. But if you're committed to living in a community where you don't appear to belong, you may soon lose any sense of privilege. It begs the question of what makes a community.

    We think of online communities, such as the one that you've created; but they're ultimately elective. A real community isn't. People, whether they really like each other or not, have a shared fate in real communities. Travel allows you to extricate yourself from that community from time to time and gives you perspective.

    One day, with hyper broadband communications, and expensive air travel, we'll all live alone underground, as in EM Forster's novella, The Machine Stops. Travel, like human contact, will become extremely unusual, and "local" and "global" will cease to have meaning. Only bicycles will save us.

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  39. ...I also think there is a difference between frequent travel vs changing your actual place of permanent residence every few years. The former allows you to feel as if you still have a stable home base. The latter can make you feel rootless.

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  40. Fantastic topic.

    I was born in Denmark to a Danish mom and a New Yorker dad, who moved us to a small town on the California coast when I was two years old. Ever since then, just seeing my closest relatives has involved air travel.

    I wouldn't give up my childhood on the Monterey Peninsula for anything, but people who have spent their entire lives there are predictably provincial. "Narrow horizons" is the term I use to describe it. The travel to the East Coast and Europe that was required to see my relatives broadened my horizons during childhood in a manner that I cannot begin to describe.

    Flash forward to today: I have settled in the Berkeley area and have essentially given up local driving, choosing to work, shop, and entertain myself using my bike and public transportation as much as possible. But the mobility provided by an automobile allows me to occasionally escape the city, where I hate to drive as much as anyone else, and to experience sparsely inhabited desert and mountains within a day's drive. These trips are truly healing (especially when they involve multi-day hikes away from the car entirely) and I'm not ready to give them up.

    Similarly, visiting other countries has done so much for my perspective on the world, the U.S., and myself, and a plane is all but required to fit that into a normal vacation schedule. I know it's incredibly consumptive to fly, but for me I'm still not ready to give it up.

    The last few years I have become increasingly obsessed with bike touring. Given a few weeks one can definitely visit neighboring states, but without taking a year or two off, international travel without air travel is still impossible. And for me, still worth it.

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  41. Wonderful, thought-provoking topic. It's a little sad--I think of myself as a traveller. I spent some wonderful times traveling and living in Europe when I was younger and always loved finding new places and also the delicious process of getting to know a city, of developing routines and habits so that I got to feel almost like a native. But the truth is that I haven't been out of the country in seven years--parenthood and finances are my only excuses and I hope that someday soon I'll be back on a plane. But I have to say, especially in the context of your friend's comment (and I hear similar things frequently from European friends and relations!) is that I think provinciality is more a state of mind. We've all known people, surely, who have taken glorious-sounding vacations and when they describe where they went or what they did, or what they refused to eat, etc. you wonder sadly "why did they bother?" if they were going to stay on the tour bus, so to speak--not talk to or get to know locals, not explore, not spend enough time enjoying the wonderful, uncomfortable feeling of being in an unfamiliar stream. I feel to some degree that even though I haven't been in a new city for a while, that I find new things and people and places in my own corner of the world every day. Apologies if that sounds corny--it does, I think, go back to bicycles and not passing through places quickly and anonymously.

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  42. I must admit to a good deal of anxiety around long-term travel. Home exerts a strong gravitational pull that tends to keep me in orbit. However, I have a non US born significant other who likes travel and a job that requires occasional extended international travel and can say that the experiences and memories these trips have given me rivals my pleasure derived from my fondest possessions. There is no substitute for share experience and memories. Hope I am not sounding like a pedantic, old person.

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  43. I also enjoyed your thoughts in this post. I am not a big traveller, only been out of the country a handful of times for mission trips, and rarely go out of state. But, I can't help but think we can get everything we need as people (for diversion or character or perspective) right where we are. Not that I wouldn't like to travel more. I would. But I don't even think it's necessary to have a broad worldview or for life lessons. I think broad thinking and thoughtful responses to life actually come from a cultivated sense of stillness, just slowing down and considering who and what is around me. While that's something that can certainly happen in travel, it can just as easily happen in Podunk. And when you are moving slowly, seeing familiar faces, etc. there is definitely time for this. Of course, I spend most of my time in Podunk, so I could be wrong.

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