Early on in the Bertolucci movie, Under a Sheltering Sky, the young hero (it is a very young John Malkovich) says, proudly, something like, "We're not tourists, we're travellers". I think that even then, many years ago, I might have wanted to identify as a traveller, not a tourist, but I have to admit I don't think of myself as a particularly good traveller.
I get anxious about arrangements; I don't like calling hotels; I get anxious about cash, and tipping; I'm worried the taxi will take me somewhere I don't want to go; I don't always sleep well when exhausted. I fuss and fuss about what to wear on the plane.
However, I do do things, by making myself do them. I taught myself, years ago, to eat a two-course meal in a good restaurant by myself (sometimes with, sometimes without book). I am sometimes tempted by stupid ideas, like walking somewhere when a sensible person would take a taxi, but have learned that distances when you are a traveller are much longer. And I have developed a reasonably good sense of what's safe and what's not. Or else I've been lucky, but I don't have any disaster tales to tell.
Travelling on your own adds just one more layer of difficulty, too. When I arrived at LA ten days ago, the plan was for me to wait a couple of hours for the next flight that would bring Andrew and Louise from Sydney, and we could then get the shuttle to Riverside together. But I recoiled at the idea of waiting alone, accompanied by bag, laptop and suitcase. Impossible to go to the bathroom, for example. And as it happened, their flight was delayed a few more hours, so I was pleased my instinct — to ask for an earlier shuttle — was right.
This time, I broke my trip home, too. So here's my new rule. If you get one flight, even from New York, into LAX then join the 11.15 pm flight to Melbourne, that's ok, but yesterday, after Terry drove me from Wooster to Cleveland, and I flew from Cleveland to Dallas, raced around and around from gate to gate on their skytrain because the gate had changed and the flight was late, then from Dallas to LAX, then I was very glad to check into my hotel on Venice beach.
I walked along the beach this morning, then checked out of the hotel and got a cab to the Getty museum. I had been to the Getty Villa years ago (getting the bus, and getting off too soon and walking along a most inhospitable freeway for the last bit), but I had learned my lesson and rode in a taxi.
It is an extraordinary place. I went to the Villa on my first visit to the US, in 1991, when I went to the Medieval Association of the Pacific conference, and was blown away by the sheer size and scale and magnitude of the vision of the place, and also by the incredible lavishness of the disposable cutlery, plates, and glasses. American galleries, museums and gardens are some of my favourite places in the world: the Frick, the Met, the Huntington, the Getty villa; and now the Getty Museum. This is a wonderful vision of marbled courtyards and small square blocks of galleries: two storey marble cubes. I confined myself to the pre-1800 stuff, and then enjoyed wandering the gardens and courtyards, especially as the sun started to set over the sunken maze water garden (it's warm here, but also November, and so the days are short). And I'm used to the endless proliferation of paper and plastic goods.
So now I'm in the Qantas lounge. They are re-building at LAX, and have put us all in the First and Business lounge, so it's very pleasant, if rather crowded. I just heard some folk leaving, saying, "there are an awful lot of Aussies there", so I think my countrymen and women must be making their presence felt over at the bar.
Of course I'm not such a good traveller as to remember to bring my camera on this trip. My elaborate plans for getting a working cell phone came to nothing, too. But at least I haven't felt the dreadful homesickness that plagued my trip to London earlier in the year. It's a much shorter trip, so missing my family hasn't seemed like such a huge sentence; and I've also been busy, working hard, while staying with friends and their cats also made it feel much more homely. And in my suitcase? Obama t-shirts and a rockin' snowdome (globe) from the Cleveland RocknRoll Hall of Fame...