Does your talent lie in travel or in living abroad? Though some people are good at both and others not cut out for either, the skill sets involved are surprisingly different.
There’s a great passage about the difference between being a born traveler and a born expat in Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s sequel to her astonishingly successful travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.
Committed is a skeptic’s look at marriage from all angles, sparked by Gilbert’s decision to wed Felipe, the Brazilian man she meets in Bali at the end of Eat Pray Love. (Javier Bardem plays Felipe in the upcoming movie, which almost makes up for Julia Roberts playing Gilbert.)
The eight chapters of Committed have titles like “Marriage and History,” “Marriage and Ceremony,’ and “Marriage and Subversion.” The event that started Gilbert’s exhaustive look at this hallowed and maligned institution was that she and her boyfriend Felipe were pushed into marriage because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suddenly decides that Felipe can no longer enter the U.S. Now if she were married to a U.S. citizen, suggests a friendly Homeland Security agent, things might be easier…
But the official hoops they have to jump through and the strains it puts in their relationship are anything but easy.
Gilbert’s experience mirrors some of what I’ve been through—marrying for immigration purposes to a foreign-born lover you’re already committed to, so hey, Why not make it legal so that your lives are easier in the face of capricious and punishing laws? And then the fun (aka trouble) begins, especially if you both have different ideas of just what marriage means.
Although the book is a kaleidoscopic exploration of just that–what marriage means–I’m not finding what I was looking for in Committed. For my tastes, there’s not enough about cross-cultural relationships, or about how a relationship can change (and not always for the better) when you make it official. But of course that’s not the book Gilbert set out to write, so I can’t really fault her for not writing what I most want to read. As many writers have noted, when you don’t find what you want to read, well, then go write it yourself!
Here’s the background: Gilbert and Felipe, her Brazilian honey, are homeless, waiting to have his visa approved so they can both return to the U.S. and start building a life there together. They’re wandering through Southeast Asia, and after six months of such travel and of being with each other night and day, tempers are fraying. Gilbert has been hurrying them from one cheap hotel room to the next, trying to keep their anxiety at bay, when she realizes that that technique doesn’t seem to work for her partner. Gilbert writes:
“Like a fussy baby who can fall asleep in a moving car, I have always been comforted with the tempo of travel. I’d always assumed that Felipe operated on the same principle; since he was the most widely traveled person I’ve ever met. But he didn’t seem to enjoy any of this drifting.
…The reality about Felipe, as I was beginning to realize, is that he’s both the best traveler I’ve ever met and by far the worst. He hates strange bathrooms and dirty restaurants and uncomfortable trains and foreign beds—all of which pretty much define the act of traveling. Given a choice, he will always select a lifestyle of routine, familiarity, and reassuringly boring everyday practices. All of which might make you assume that the man is not fit to be a traveler at all.
But you would be wrong to assume that, for here is Felipe’s traveling gift, his superpower, the secret weapon that renders him peerless: He can create a familiar habitat of reassuringly boring everyday practices for himself anyplace, if you just let him stay in one spot. He can assimilate absolutely anywhere on the planet in the space of about three days, and then he’s capable of staying put in that place for the next decade or so without complaint.
This is why Felipe has been able to live all over the world. Not merely travel, but live. Over the years, he has folded himself into societies from South American to Europe, from the Middle East to the South Pacific. He arrives somewhere utterly new, decides he likes the place, moves right in, learns the language, and instantly becomes a local.”
So how about you? Are you more of a traveler, like Gilbert, or a born expat, like Felipe?
Photo by Erin Van Rheenen