Fernweh

I miss traveling. I miss being in places I haven't seen before, listening to languages I only half understand, trying to figure out the cultural meanings of what I don't recognize. I have fernweh.

It seems there's a word in German for almost anything, probably at least in part due to the fact that, if you need a new word, you can string old words together and come up with something new and, for the non-native speaker, relatively unpronounceable. A favorite example? Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftkapitänswitwenrente. Huh? That's the pension that the widow of a captain who worked for the Danube Shipping Company collects. And yes, that's all one word. Or slightly shorter: Geburtstagskäsespätzleessen - a feast of cheesy egg noodles on your birthday. Anyway, German is full of great words. Like "Schadenfreude," meaning "being happy at someone else's misfortune." Or - to get back to the point - how I'm feeling right now: Fernweh. Related to heimweh, which means homesickness (or, more literally, aching for home), fernweh is a longing, an aching for the faraway.

Not that there's anything wrong with being at home. I love my home. My partner is here. My kitties are here. The house we live in is my home, because we've put time and love into making it what we want it to be. And generally, I love what I do, the work, the research and the teaching. And I've got great friends, friends I want to be spending more time with than I am.

And yet, I still have fernweh.

I think it's that travel is, almost, in my blood. The first time I was on a plane was when I was about three months old and going to Germany to meet the family for the first time. My parents took us to Germany nearly every summer when I was a kid, because aside from us, the whole family was over there. This was a priority; as my father once explained to me, "Other families get new cars every few years. We go to Germany instead." A lot of the places we went were familiar, of course; my grandparents' apartment in Köln, my grandmother's house near Hannover. But there were always new places to go, people we hadn't met before. Sometimes we'd take a week or three and head somewhere new - to Paris, say, or Greece - just to travel, not to visit. Because, of course, once you're already in Europe, Greece or France is a lot closer and cheaper to get to than it seems from here in U.S.

When I lived in Berlin, I took advantage of that fact, spending at least a month in another European (or otherwise close by) country each year, sometimes more than that. I also spent three months traveling through Central America and Peru. I traveled alone a lot, which at first was really intimidating - but that's another column.

For the last few years, though, I've been back in the States, and well, it's hard not to feel anchored. It's harder to take vacations, and working here, I make quite a bit less money here, too, and the cost of living is higher than I'm used to, which means there's less income for travel, too. And again, it's not that I'm unhappy here. It's just that I wish there were more opportunities to go somewhere I've never been before, somewhere beyond attending a conference in exciting and scenic Durant, Oklahoma.

And all of this is why I'm going to Korea this summer, although I can't really afford to take either the time or the money to do so. (But heck, what are those "0% interest until January 2003" credit card offers there for, if not for this?!) I've been looking forward to this for a long time - since my friend and I started planning it years ago, not sure if we'd really go when the time came. Whether I went or not, it was wonderful to sit there and imagine I could.

The subway map of Seoul. Just looking at it makes me excited about getting lost on it.

So now I'm going. This summer. Late May, early June. I am SO excited. (And I'll try to update the site from there, but if not, expect several travel journals when I'm back!)

And of course, when I'm in Korea, I'll have heimweh, too. But that, too, is part of the point of travel.

 

Dreaming about travel

One of my favorite sites to surf and dream about traveling is the Lonely Planet site, especially the Thorn Tree.

And unfortunately, I'm going to a conference where I'm presenting a paper on Saturday, and well, that paper isn't written yet. So I've got too much to do right now to put up more right here, but I'll put something more up here next week!

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April 10, 2002

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