Travelling by train in the deep night. It evokes a sense of timelessness, and brings back memories, many of which aren’t even my own, but borrowed from classic books and old black and white movies starring Greta Garbo.
Our vacation begins. Ponczka is my perfect travelling partner, a happy baby, I call her. She thrills at every small triumph, like crossing the border on an expired passport, or smuggling our homemade wine in pop bottles. For her, the train awakens memories of travelling back and forth between Gubin, her hometown, and Poznan, where she escaped to Art High School when she was fourteen, and discovered her independence. For me, it’s travelling through Germany when I was a kid, following our show biz mom from Berlin to Leipzig to Frankfurt and back, eating dinners in the restaurants that stood in the atria of the glorious old stations. And too, my travels back and forth between Seattle and Chicago – two solid days each way – when I worked the summer sales circuit with Encyclopaedia Britannica in the early ninties.
Vacations are to dream about. We dream of what they will be in the preceding weeks or months. And we dream them again afterward, knitting together what actually happened with what might have, so that, in that wonderful freestyle replay of memory, even the ordinary, disappointing moments ultimately grow into our expectation of them, however long after the fact.
I wonder if what I experience is universal, this tug, as the vacation nears, to have it be a transformative experience, the expectation of returning a different man than when I left. I somehow anticipate that, during my vacation, I will rid myself of every vice and shed every excess pound. I’ll read a few books, pen a couple of short stories, and improve my French and tarot reading. I expect I will return home refreshed, enlightened and even galvanized, ready to make manifest whatever ambitions have lain dormant in the cradle of my spirit.
I never expect so much out of fourteen short days, as when I’m on vacation. But it’s a delicious expectation. There’s a vibrant tension between the desire to indulge and luxuriate in freedom and ease, and the desire to make the most of time that feels to be more wholly my own. A balanced tension between wanting to be happy and wanting to be good. And there’s a sought after sweet spot of comfortable exertion, of invigorating effort, that satisfies both wants.
When we exit the train in New York the balancing act will begin. To lounge over drinks with old friends, or hit up the exhibits at the Guggenheim. And when we’re aboard the cruise ship, heading to the warm Caribbean seas, will we be more diligent about visiting the onboard gym or the midnight buffets? And in Old San Juan, will we dutifully explore the historic Fort, attending to every anecdote of our tour guide, or will we stake out a spot on a beach and luxuriate as the sun works its magic?
Vacation time is upon us.