Having had a chance recently to exercise by vagabond nature, I have been thinking about where it came from.
It may genetic. It certainly feels as if it is coming from every cell in my body. If I wasn’t born with a wanderlust, I acquired one so shortly thereafter that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t long to hit the road—to see the world. Not to vacation. To travel.
A book and a few pieces of music stirred these longings when I was very young.
As a child, most of what I read came from the nearby public library, but the one book we had a home—called the Wonder Book of Knowledge as I recall—had everything to fire a child’s imagination. A huge volume, with a blue linen cover, at least five inches thick, it contained an encyclopedia, a collection of children’s stories, brain teasers and riddles, glossy pages showing the flags of all nations and birds and animals of the world. And best of all, an atlas. My brother and I would lie on the living room floor for hours on end, pouring over the maps. I especially liked ones that showed small islands off exotic coasts, remote and intriguing. I would point to a tiny pink speck in the blue ocean off a pale green coast and say, “Imagine going to a place like that.”
|My brother and me about the time the bug bit me.|
When I was four and five, my father was in China, sent there with a battalion of US Marines who had fought in the Pacific. They went to accept the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao and were kept on to oversee the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war. The letters and cards he sent during his six months there came to us with pictures of people the likes of which I had never seen, but whom I wished I could know. And I missed my daddy so much that when, during my first week in kindergarten, the teacher asked us “What do you want to do when you grow up?” my answer was, “When I grow up, I am going to go to China.”
The first song I heard that talked of wanderlust was probably the one written by Puccini. The recording in my house in those days was Caruso’s. Here is Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition. The aria is from Madama Butterfly and contains the words “Yankee vagabondo,” the title of this blog. It begins “Dovunque al mondo”—wherever in the world. That was where I wanted to go: wherever in the world, because so many far off places promised to be fascinating, filled with wonders. Listen carefully and you will hear the magic word: L’aventura!
In my very early years, our big Philco radio broadcast songs that fanned those flames of intrigue. Songs whose lyrics attached specific destinations to my longing for the far away. Here are a couple of big hits from the 40’s with words I learned by heart without effort before I was eight years old, since I heard them so often and they spoke to my soul:
Maps and music formed an important part of who I became and still am—a creature who longs to be on the move.
When I was leaving for my recent trip to Africa, people I know voiced dire warnings—of Ebola, of terrorists, of the everyday slings and arrows of being alone in a foreign land. They tried to talk me out of going. But I know who I am. So I went, and I would not have missed it for anything.
We are all going to die of something. If I could have my choice, rather than die quietly in a hospital with a tube up my nose, rather than the security of going nowhere, I would choose to die of adventure.
Annamaria - Monday