Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ALONE AGAIN OR

I've been thinking about Dimitris ever since he left. Not about him. I've been thinking about something he said. No, something he didn't say. No, something he did... does. Oh, nevermind.

Let me explain. Dimitris and I met in Cordoba the night after Christmas Day and went out to dinner the following Monday in Buenos Aires. He's from Greece, and he's on a six-month solo tour of South America that began late last October.

Judging from his Facebook photo albums, he's spent the majority of the last five years or so on the road, touching down in such far-flung places as Asia, the South Pacific, Central America, Down Under, Egypt, Dubai, pretty much everywhere under the sun except the USA (which, he says, is on principle -- he refuses to endure the bureaucratic process Greeks must go through to be allowed into the country). In most of his photos, he's either alone, posing with local strangers, or alone.

I asked him why he spends so much time on the road, and he didn't really give me a clear answer. He enjoys being in new places, seeing new things (well, duh!) -- especially when nature and wide-open spaces are involved -- but I sensed there was something more. I got the feeling that he was looking for something. Or trying to escape it.

The day after we went out, at around 11pm, he sent me a text message from the port, saying that he was on his way to Colonia, Uruguay, en route to spend New Year's Eve in Punta del Este. I felt sad for him. And not just because he was going to dreadfully dull Colonia at midnight. Something about the way he was spending his six months, a day here, a day there, seeing a lot of things but not really experiencing any of it, dabbling without really jumping in, seemed kind sad. He seemed kind of sad, this wayfaring stranger.

I thought about Dimitris (and Jerry Maguire and About Schmidt and Sideways) tonight while watching Up In The Air. In a way, he is like George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, living on the road, no strings, no agenda. Only Dimitris has to do it without the benefit of an expense account. I get them both, Ryan and Dimitris. I've spent most of my adult life filled with wanderlust. Part of me wants to see as much of the world as possible. A bigger part of me wants to experience as many people and cultures from around the world as possible, which is why I prefer travelling to cities as opposed to being surrounded by nature in the middle of nowhere.

Dimitris is the opposite. He feels that after a while, all cities begin to look alike, which is why there are so few photos of him in Europe. I feel that after a while every sunset begins to look alike. To paraphrase a point that Ryan Bingham made in the movie, although I have done most of my travelling alone, my most memorable moments have involved other people. An interesting person is always more memorable than a sunset, or a tree, or the clouds. The Egyptian pyramids and the lost city of the Incas aside, culture is in the city, in the people, not in a waterfall, or in a cow.

But I digress slightly. In the film, Ryan Bingham, a profressional terminator (as in, he fires people) who moonlights as a motivational speaker, teaches the benefits of travelling light -- in the air and in life. I think this is something I've tried to do on and off my entire adult life, but especially now. Keep your personal belongings to a mininum. Keep your personal involvements to a minimum. "Make no mistake. We all die alone," Ryan tells a colleague played by Anna Kendrick (who nails the role of a hot-shot upstart plagued by uncertainty, self-doubt and a serious need to cut loose).

I've thrown that one into casual conversation before. But the solitude-solitaire thing doesn't really work for Ryan. Despite his smooth talk and confident bravura during the first part of the movie, George's natural, tick-free performance (he is the antithesis of Daniel Day-Lewis, the greatest one-man show on earth) shows hints of cracks in the armour. As he began to let down his guard, thanks to Alex (Vera Farmiga, effortlessly sexy and more so for it), so did I.

I won't say any more, lest I give away the outcome of the story, but by the denouement, I got Ryan and understood Dimitris a little bit better. Today I booked a one-way flight to New York City in February. I don't know where I'll go or when I'll return to Buenos Aires, but I'll be back. Being on the road just doesn't have the appeal today that it had when I was 27.

As for Dimitris, he's about to cross the Uruguayan border into Brazil. I hope he finds what he's looking for -- or conquers what he's running from. Wanderlust can take you to a lot of fascinating places, but at the end of the day, whether it's filled with people or with no one (preferably no one), with things or with emptiness (minimalist rocks), there's no place like home.
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