Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tracking Home

Since the last post, Nick and I drove back from Santa Fe by way of Las Vegas and San Francisco and got busy with our "other" lives in Massachusetts as soon as we got back, hence the radio silence on the blog channel for this past month.
It was an epic coast-to-coast adventure.  Especially the California detour.  After paying another visit to the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas (we are now "frequent liers") to see Jackie, who was half-way through her grueling Bikram instructor bootcamp, we headed to San Francisco, hitting Death Valley and Sequoia National parks along the way.  Un-be-lie-va-ble!
As desolate as some of these landscapes are, they are the next best thing to traveling to other planets.  Since they escape description, one must see them to understand what I am talking about.  So go see Death Valley and definitely go see the giant sequoias.  The "biggest" trees on earth.
At a height of 85 m, General Sherman is smaller than the "real" bell tower of Saint Mark (100m), though taller than the fake one at the Venetian.  It is not the tallest tree in the worldHyperion, a California redwood, a little further north on the coast of California is twice as tall.  A "mere" 2700 years old, General Sherman is half the age of Methuselah, which is also in California.  Except for the widest tree, which is a baobab in South Africa (where, as an aside, the FIFA Soccer World Cup is about to start), California is home to all of the other tree record-holders in the world, and General Sherman is the biggest by volume...  Humongous both in height and girth.  And unexpectedly very soft - kind of spongy - to the touch.  Really weird texture, much like mulch.
Whereas on the way down to Santa Fe in March we recorded timelapse videos of our entire drive, this time around we did less of that, but we compensated by recording "tracks" using the BUMP application, which is now working quite well, as can be seen from the map below, which is a composite of thousands of GPS and accelerometer readings across the entire continent... Impressive! (more on this later)

View Larger Map

We are now about to leave Massachusetts again to head to Europe on June 6th.  We'll be back on this side of the pond on August 2nd.  We are real nomads... Nick and I.  Our travels are testing the limits of Dopplr.  We bounce around like Bedouins, set up tents in far-away places like Tuaregs.  Like Berbers, we are without a real home.  We might as well live in yurts (which for some reason is one of Jackie's unfulfilled fantasies).
As much as he likes the excitement of travel, Nick is starting to complain about it a little.  He misses his SVS friends.  Conversely, many of our friends and colleagues complain that we're not around enough...  It's tough to have to leave, but, then again, if I had never left Venice in the first place, I would have never met any of my American friends.  If I hadn't left Spencer to go south and west, I would have never met my great friends in Santa Fe, like Steve and Josh who now miss me (as I miss them) when I go back east...  You just can't win.

Tonight, a  census volunteer finally caught up with me in Spencer after trying several times.  He is a retired Indian Ph.D. physicist whom I vaguely remembered having showed up (as an abutter) at one of our planning board meetings a while back.  "What am I gonna do?  Stay home and watch TV?" is his reasoning for volunteering to be a census-taker.  My kind of guy.  When he asked me if I was in Spencer on April 1st 2010, I had to think about it.  Then I remembered that April Fool's was when I quit smoking (again) in Santa Fe.  "So, is this your home?", the Indian scientist asked.  "I guess so..." I said hesitatingly.  If I am going to be counted anywhere in the US, I guess Spencer is the most appropriate place for me to call home.  I am here about 5 months of the year, these days.  But I don't like to pick "favorites".  In my mind, all of my haunts are "homes" in equal measure.  After all, as I am equanimously fond of saying:  "I spend half of my time in Spencer, half in Venice and half in Santa Fe".

Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in"...  That implies someone else is home to let you in.  Who are "they"?  Now that Jackie is gone, nobody was home in Spencer to let us in, and the castle felt abandoned (as real castles often are). What if you own the house and let yourself in with the keys?  Is that home too?  Or is it where you keep your clothes and lawnmowers?
Being a vagabond has its pluses and minuses, like anything else.
Like Homer, our mobile apps can help us track the odyssey that is our life.  Like Ulysses (which for a while was my acronymically witty middle-nom de plume), I may some day return to my Ithaca: a place I will call home.  Like Marco Polo in Calvino's Invisible Cities, perhaps I just find my hometown everywhere I go.  All of these places are "almost but not quite entirely unlike" Venice as Arthur Dent (or Douglas Adams) would say...  Some subtly so, like the Sequoia of Saint Mark, some more blatantly so, like the Venetian.
In this very Frostian quote, Calvino expresses our struggle with ubiquity in space and time:
"Marco enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man's place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in the square. By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else's present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches." 
My answer to this existential conundrum is to be both the man that watches and the man who sits in the square, in an attempt to live out as many possible futures as I can -- simultaneously.

That's me:  ubiquitously omnipresent (yet everabsent) Fabio Polo.