People have been asking me where I’m from and where I live. I always say I’m from Croatia or, on more reflective days, a country that no longer exists. My answer to the second question has become less certain. I used to say I live in New York. Period. But as of late I’ve been adding: “I live in New York… apparently.”
The fact is, out of 12 months last year, I spent only three in total at home in New York. The other nine were spent on the road: 2.5 months in Chile, 4.5 in Croatia (with several side trips to Slovenia next door), two weeks in India, one week in Barcelona, three weeks in Cape Verde and a few unexpected days in London, courtesy of Sandy.
I packed on probably 200 days this year, stayed in at least 100 hotels, flew a dozen airlines… Sometimes I wish I was a numbers person who kept track of all these things. Numbers aside, it’s been quite a ride.
It’d be a stretch to say I enjoyed every minute of the adventure. The logistics of this peripatetic life definitely present a challenge. Making sure all the pieces of the global puzzle fit together is quite an art. I’ve become pretty good at it but have also gained more gray hair in the process.
That said, I’ve been feeling damn lucky. Many of my friends know the tag line I’ve been using to describe my journey of the last few years: “Living the high life below the poverty level.” Yes, you heard that right: poverty level. Have no illusion about travel writing: unless you’re independently wealthy, with another source of income and/or husband/wife/parents who support you, you’re officially poor. It’s as simple as that.
Of course not all of this travel writer’s journey has been high life. Let me tell you of a recent night at a cheapie residence (appropriately called Nazareth) on the remote island of Brava in Cape Verde, where – for lack of another choice – Hoji (my husband) & I slept on blood-stained hair-covered sheets under Coca Cola-logoed blankets. My disgust was of biblical proportions but, well, we made it through the night.
So not all is glam, my friends. A substantial chunk of my travels involves experiences of such base variety. I don’t admit I enjoy them but they are etched into the life of a traveler. Like it or not, they’re here to stay. If I take them out, I’d lose perspective.
Because, you see, there’s the other side of my life. There’s the $20,000-worth fortnight in India. There are the five-star hotel stays in Chile, Croatia, Portugal…
In fact, my husband & I greeted 2013 over €750-priced 2-Michelin-starred dinner and then retreated into our €430-night grand suite, waking up today to the sunshine of southern Portugal and an unobstructed view of the Atlantic from our private garden.
It’s perhaps crass to be mentioning the euro amounts of our surreal New Year’s – and colorful details of our out-of-bounds life – when the country we’re in teeters on the edge of economic collapse, our adopted home across the ocean faces the uncertain future on the other side of the fiscal cliff, people around the world are starving, without access to water, out of power (I’m looking at you, Sandy!) and other basics.
So why do I write about this? Me, a person who doesn’t swoon over Michelin stars, exclusive hotels, fancy cars and designer-labeled clothing. It’s because I live life of an impostor. Another person’s life. I see this journey of mine as a master play of the absurd, an exercise in surrealism, a fun game of role-playing. And I pinch myself a lot, bringing myself back to *my* reality.
I come from a middle-class family that lived life the best we could as our country fell apart. My husband hails from a humble background in war-torn Angola. And here we are, together, in someone else’s (five-star) shoes. And the more we, a pair of “99 percent-ers”, experience life of the “1 percent”, the more I try to stand with my feet firm on the ground, my eyes and heart wide open.
When I look back at 2012, it seems quite amazing but too complicated. So for this new year, I hope for a life more simple. In that spirit, we are returning to New York in one week. I have – don’t fall off the chair now! — no travel plans and a strong wish to minimize my material possessions. In fact, one of my resolutions is to do a grand purge of our Brooklyn apartment and get rid of all I don’t need.
I also intend to:
• finally learn Portuguese (which I already have in my ear but should be speaking by now, having been surrounded by it for nearly seven years)
• improve my photography skills
• spend more time with the people I love
• criticize less
• laugh more
• work less while earning more.
Big plans, I know. I’ve always been ambitious, what can I say. But also blessed with great luck.
So, as 2013 starts, I thank the universe. I thank all the amazing people around the world who have crossed my path. I thank my family & friends who have been an ongoing support, a constant inspiration and a thrill to have around, far & near. I wish us all a happy new year!